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Iceland Will Become First Country to Require Employers to Prove Equal Pay

Last week, on International Women’s Day, Iceland announced that it will introduce legislation requiring employers to prove that they pay employees equally, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality. This will make the country the first in the world to mandate pay equality on this level.
icelandic women strike
Image Credit: Moyan_Brenn/Flickr

The legislation, which leaders will introduce to parliament this month, will require companies with more than 25 workers to prove that they offer equal pay. Employers will obtain certification every three years to prove that they’re in compliance.

“[T]he time is right to do something radical about this issue,” Social Affairs and Equality Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson. “Equal rights are human rights. We need to make sure that men and women enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace. It is our responsibility to take every measure to achieve that.”

Iceland and the Gender Pay Gap

Women earn at least 14 percent less than men in Iceland. However, compared to other nations, that’s pretty good. In fact, according to data from the World Economic Forum, Iceland is the leading country in the world for gender equality. (The assessment includes metrics like political empowerment, health, and educational attainment, as well as economic participation.)

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By comparison, the United States ranked 20th in the World Economic Forum’s ranking. PayScale’s data show that women make 76 cents for every dollar a man earns, when we compare all women to all men. The gender pay gap is smaller when we compare men and women in the same roles, with similar experience and qualifications — 98 cents on the dollar. However, since the opportunity gap (women working in lower-paying jobs and getting promoted less often than men) contributes to women making less than men generally, even that smaller controlled gap isn’t necessarily reason for celebration.

The head of the World Economic Forum told Quartz that Iceland might be the first country to close the gap completely.

“They’re at 87% of the gap being closed right now,” said Saadia Zahidi. “So they would be the first, if they continue at current rate of change” to hit 100%.

The Fight for Equal Pay in Iceland

Twice in the past 40 or so years — most recently last October — Icelandic women have gone on strike to draw attention to pay inequality. When 90 percent of the country’s women went on strike in 1975, one report says:

Newspapers were not printed since the vast majority of typesetters were women and there was no telephone service. Many schools were either closed or partially closed as the majority of teachers were women.

Flights were cancelled as flight attendants did not come to work and bank branches had to be staffed by executives as tellers took the day off.

Fish factories were also closed, with many nurseries and shops also shut or at reduced capacity.

In short, they may be underpaid compared to men, but women are a vital part of Iceland’s workforce. Soon, they’ll be paid like it as well.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think laws like this could help close the gender pay gap? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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