New Commission for gender equality to tackle wage gap

In June 2006, the Norwegian government set up a commission to investigate measures aimed at narrowing the wage gap between men and women. The Gender Equality Commission comprises experts from research institutes and universities, and will submit its recommendations to the government by 1 March 2008.

In June 2006, the Norwegian government approved the establishment of a commission on gender equality aimed at investigating measures that may assist in narrowing the existing wage gap between men and women. The new Gender Equality Commission consists of experts on working life and gender equality from research institutes and universities, and is due to submit its recommendations to the government by 1 March 2008.

Functions of new commission

The new commission is led by Anne Enger Lahnstein, currently a County Governor, who has a long political career. According to the commission’s mandate, the objective is to achieve equal pay regardless of gender. The wage disparity between men and women is measured as the difference in hourly pay when variations in working time have been taken into account. In carrying out its work, the commission will attempt to do the following:

  • provide an overall picture of existing wage differences in Norwegian working life;
  • consider the control measures needed to narrow the wage gap between men and women;
  • review the potential consequences of introducing such measures on the public budget, labour market operations and labour supply.

In the course of its work, the commission is also expected to confer with a consultative group comprising representatives from the social partner organisations, as well as organise joint meetings for discussion and dialogue relating to their work and findings.

Commentary

Setting up a Norwegian Gender Equality Commission has been on the government agenda for some years now. Many of the female-dominated trade unions have requested the establishment of such a commission, and it also received support from the three political parties that formed the new coalition government in October 2005 (NO0510103F).

The commission comes at a time of continued wage differences between men and women in Norway, and in recognition of the fact that the wage gap has only slightly narrowed over the last few years. Today, the average wage of women in full-time employment is 86.5% of that of men. This figure has increased only fractionally from 85.4% in 1997. Moreover, the wage gap varies between industries and occupations. For instance, in the education sector women earn on average 97% of that of male earnings, while women in financial services earn on average 71.9% of the average male wage.

Not everyone sees the need for establishing such a commission, and the employers in particular have been sceptical of its role. Although all parties recognise the challenges in relation to equal pay, it is argued by some that wage formation should be decided by the social partners themselves or between individual employers and employees. Therefore, some parties argue that pay should not be subjected to further legal regulation.

It is widely recognised that the greatest challenge in achieving equal pay is not in fact discrimination by employers in the remuneration paid to both sexes in the same jobs, but rather the fact that men and women work in different positions and sectors, and that women’s career developments are different to those of men. It seems that these wage structures have proven difficult to change through the collective bargaining system. As a result, the commission will have to consider whether, and in what ways, the wage gap can be reduced within the present bargaining system, or whether other solutions to the problem should be sought.

The government has, in agreement with the social partner organisations, opted for a commission consisting solely of experts from research institutes and universities, but the social partner organisations will participate in the consultative project group. In this way, the commission will be able to conduct its projects without letting disagreements between the social partners influence its work and conclusions. At the same time, it is evident that structural wage differences between different sectors in the national economy cannot be solved without the participation of the social partner organisations. Thus, there are diverse expectations about the commission’s work. While some parties see it as an important step towards a more equal wage structure between men and women, others expect little to come out of the deliberation process.

Kristine Nergaard, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research

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