Commission proposes pay rise for female-dominated occupations and extended parental leave

The Norwegian Gender Equality Commission presented its final report in February 2008. Among its recommendations, the commission proposes reserving one third of the parental leave period for fathers. In addition, the commission is calling on the national authorities and labour market parties to consider a special pay increase for female-dominated occupational groups in the public sector. The proposals received a mixed response from the parties involved.

Background and mission

The Gender Equality Commission was set up by the government in the summer of 2006 to investigate the different aspects of the wage gap between women and men and propose measures that may assist in narrowing this gap (NO0607019I). The commission consisted of experts on wage formation, working life and gender equality from universities and research institutes, covering various subject areas such as law, sociology and economics. It was headed by the County Governor, Anne Enger Lahnstein.

Gender pay gap in Norwegian labour market

The commission asserts that the most significant reason for the existing pay difference between women and men relates to the fact that they work in different sections of the labour market – notably, in different economic sectors, companies, occupations and positions. Only minor or no wage differences exist between women and men when comparing employees with the same personal characteristics, occupying the same positions in the same company. Moreover, the wage gap may not be ascribed to systematic differences in educational levels between women and men. The issue of equal pay is thus a problem related to the gender segregated labour market, and the price or value attributed to female-dominated occupations and sectors of activity.

The commission also highlights how the existing bargaining system underpins the current relative wage differences in the labour market, including those between women and men (NO0708029I). As much as 20% of the wage gap between women and men may be due to childcare responsibilities, as these are one of the main reasons why women stay out of work for relatively long periods of time, according to a government report (Kjønn og lønn, NOU 2008:6 (4.12Mb PDF)).

Commission recommendations

The majority of the commission members propose the following measures to reduce gender inequality in the Norwegian labour market. All but one member of the commission agreed to these recommendations.

  • The commission is calling for increased funding for the Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud (Likestillings- og diskrimineringsombudet), with the aim of strengthening the work carried out by the institution to improve equality between the sexes, including equal pay. This is to be supported by legal changes, including an obligation for companies of a certain size to maintain wage statistics in relation to gender and occupations.
  • The national authorities and the labour market organisations are also asked to consider a wage rise for female-dominated occupational groups in the public sector. The proposal assumes that the various stakeholders in the labour market would be able to reach an agreement that would allow for a higher pay rise in the public sector than in the private sector, and that this new relative pay rise would not be met by demands for compensatory wage increases by other groups of workers. The commission estimates that a government contribution in this regard would amount to about NOK 3 billion (€375 million as at 30 April 2008) when raising the wage levels of female-dominated occupational groups through collective bargaining.
  • Furthermore, the commission suggests that the social partner organisations in the private sector put aside funds for an increase in wages of both low-wage workers and female-dominated occupational groups. Pay rises in the private sector are not conditioned by government funding.
  • The commission also proposes changes to the current parental leave arrangements. It recommends dividing the present leave entitlements into three equal parts, one of which will be reserved for the mother, one for the father and the third which may be divided between the parents if they wish.
  • Parents who are absent from work due to statutory parental leave should be entitled to pay adjustments in line with those of the average wage increases; to begin with, this should be achieved through incorporating new provisions into collective agreements.
  • Finally, a project should be launched with the aim of getting more women into management positions.

Commentary

The Gender Equality Commission’s report is subject to a consultation among a large number of organisations, including all of the trade union confederations and employer organisations. All of these organisations have been asked to submit their responses to the report by 1 September 2008. The proposal to divide parental leave into three equal parts, one of which will be reserved for fathers, has already been rejected by both the Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, and the Minister of Children and Equality, Anniken Huitfeldt.

The commission’s proposal of a special wage increase for female-dominated occupational groups in the public sector is also deemed as controversial, and the employer organisations have already rejected the proposal. On the workers’ side, reactions vary from strong support to considerable scepticism regarding the proposal. However, the commission’s strong emphasis on such a pay rise being conditional on an agreement between the various stakeholders in the labour market implies that the labour market organisations will have to make up their minds on this issue by the time the next main wage settlement will be negotiated in 2010 – that is, as long as the government is willing to contribute to the funds required for such a pay rise.

Kristine Nergaard, Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science

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