Ahead of International Women’s Day next week, the European Union Commission announced it’s imposing new rules to make pay levels public in order to make it easier for women to challenge wage imbalances and close the gender pay gap.

“For equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly,” says Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission.

Read: Pay equity problem persists in Canadian workplaces: survey

Under the commission’s proposals, employers would have to give information about initial pay levels in the vacancy announcement and ahead of the job interview, during which employers will not be allowed to ask about applicants’ previous pay grades. Employees will be allowed to ask employers the average pay levels by gender for people doing the same work. And to put more pressure on big companies, the proposal forces firms with more than 250 employees to publish information about any gender pay gap. If women remain underpaid, the commission wants them to be able to get back pay and it wants the burden of proof to be on employers, not the women challenging them.

The gender pay gap among  the 27-nation bloc has been reduced to 14 per cent for people doing exactly the same work; however, when it comes to pension rights, reflecting working conditions of the past 30 to 40 years, the gender gap still stands at 30 per cent. The EU has sought to end such gender bias, but progress has been slow over the decades since its inception in 1957.

Read: Federal government publishes report on pay equity

Wage conditions and scales in Europe have long been shrouded in secrecy, which has helped extend inequality and proved to be a big hurdle for those demanding pay justice. And companies have fallen far short in helping bridge the gap, says EU Vice-President Vera Jourova. “We have sufficiently strong evidence that we need to have binding rules and not only to rely on social responsibility of the companies because we see that it doesn’t lead anywhere,” she says, noting over the past seven years, the gap had closed only by little over 2 percentage points.

The European Trade Union Confederation lauded the intent but said the proposals lacked teeth to force companies into decisive action. It complained that small- and medium-size companies, where such discrimination often happens, were excluded from key elements of the enforcement.

The proposal now goes to the European Parliament and EU countries for further discussion before it can be approved.

The EU’s measure comes after Canada’s new pay transparency legislation came into effect January 1, making it the first country to make wage gap information for women, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities working in federally regulated workplaces publicly available, according to a press release.

Read: New federal employment equity, safety legislation taking effect