Government measures to promote equal pay

In October 2010, the Norwegian government presented its policies to promote equal pay. The government aims to strengthen the individual worker’s ability to follow up his or her claim to equal pay by ensuring that pay statistics, broken down by gender and groups of occupations, will be made available at company level to all employees. The government also wants to promote greater equality between mothers and fathers by clarifying existing parental leave regulations.

Equal pay and the gender wage gap have been on the agenda in Norwegian working life, and in Norwegian politics, for a long time. The wage gap between women and men, measured as the difference in hourly pay, has remained relatively stable over the last 10–15 years with women earning on average 85% of men’s average wages. In September 2010, the government presented its white paper (in Norwegian) on pay equality. The paper expands measures proposed by the government-appointed Equal Pay Commission in a 2008 report (199KB PDF) (NO0804029I). The white paper does not, however, deal with collective bargaining issues and wage settlements and, because of this, the commission’s proposal for a government-funded salary pot for female-dominated occupations in the public sector is not considered (NO0911019I).

Effective monitoring of the right to equal pay

Under Norwegian law, companies are already required to report on status and measures on gender equality on an annual basis (NO0204101N). The government has announced that it will strengthen this obligation by ensuring that pay statistics are made available at the enterprise level, broken down by gender and groups of occupations. Such statistics will be made available to all employees. The actual regulations will be drawn up later, but the government says smaller companies will be exempt from these obligations (suggesting a threshold set at 50 employees), and that the new provisions will be designed in compliance with privacy law.

The government is signalling its intentions to impose a duty of disclosure on employers in connection with alleged pay discrimination. Such disclosures should take account of all aspects of pay, including bonuses, and include information about pay levels as well as the criteria setting the wage levels of people with whom workers can compare themselves. The obligation does not include assessments of individual work performance. The government proposals allow for the information to be revealed to shop stewards or other employee representatives and not to the individual employee. The government will continue developing the regulations in order to solve the problem of making them applicable also to non-unionised employees.

Measures to improve equality between parents

In 2008, the Equal Pay Commission also recommended dividing parental leave into three parts, with one third reserved for the mother, one third for the father, and the final third to be distributed between the parents as they see fit. The proposal is controversial, and it has been pointed out that it makes it difficult for mothers to breastfeed for as long as the national health authorities recommend. By 1 July 2011, the parental leave period in Norway will be 57 weeks (with 80% pay compensation) or 47 weeks (with full compensation). Since 1993, a part of this period has been earmarked for the father. It cannot be transferred to the mother and is lost if not taken up by the father. The paternity leave period has been increased gradually over recent years (NO0901039I), from four weeks in 2004 to 10 weeks in 2010, and from 1 July 2011 fathers will be entitled to 12 weeks out of a total of 47 or 57 weeks of parental leave (receiving 100% or 80% pay compensation, depending on the leave taken). Since 2004, the total parental leave period has been increased by five weeks, meaning that some redistribution in favour of the father has taken place. From July 2011, nine of the 47/57 weeks will be reserved for the mother and 12 weeks for the father, with the rest of the period distributed between the parents as they see fit. However, only a minority of fathers (one out of five) exceed their quota period when they stay at home with their child, meaning that most of the parental leave period is still used by women.

The government is now considering whether a similar quota should be reserved for the mother (12 weeks and three weeks prior to birth). Since very few women take less than the stipulated quota (12 weeks after birth), the introduction of such a quota will not substantially change the situation for most women. The purpose of the changes would first and foremost be to strengthen the existing rule stipulating that the distribution between the parents of the remaining part of the parental leave period is optional, and does not necessarily accrue to the mother, as well as the awareness of this principle

The government is also considering the introduction of a statutory duty on the employer to compensate time off taken for breastfeeding. Today, nursing mothers have the right to time off work to breastfeed, but only workers covered by collective agreements are guaranteed time off with pay. The government will limit the statutory right to paid time off for breastfeeding to one hour per day until the child is one year old.

Gender balance in education and employment

A final set of measures given priority by the government aim to improve the gender balance in education and employment. The government intends to continue measures promoting unconventional career choices – for instance encouraging more girls/young women to choose technical professions such as engineering when entering higher education, as well as to strengthen efforts directed against involuntary part-time work. The government points to the fact that, in its budget proposal for 2011, funds have been set aside for local pilot projects aimed at reducing the number of workers on involuntary part-time work.

Commentary

It can be argued that the white paper simply follows up on existing measures to promote equal pay in Norwegian working life. A number of female-dominated unions have criticised the government for not going far enough, and have called for measures to close the equal pay gap that are binding on both employers and the government. The President of the Norwegian Nurses Organisation (NSF), Lisbeth Normann, argues that the white paper contains little new in terms of policy and calls for female-dominated professions in the public sector to be more highly valued. Other unions, particularly member unions of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and of the Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS) have, on the whole, welcomed the white paper.

Employers assert that a number of the proposed measures will place a greater burden on them, and they are also critical of what they see as the government not going far enough to establish a genuine tripartite division of the parental leave period, such as one third of the paid leave period being reserved for the father.

Kristine Nergaard, Fafo

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