Equal pay between genders legally enforceable in Iceland

Iceland made history on Tuesday when it became the first country in the world make it illegal to pay men more than women.

As first reported by Al-Jazeera, companies with more than 25 employees will now have to gain government certification to demonstrate their equal pay system and its implementation.

Companies in Iceland now have to prove their equal pay systems.

Photo: Andrew Dyson

The legislation passed through Iceland's parliament last year when women made up almost half of the parliament's membership (this percentage has since lowered to 38 per cent).

The new certification will need to be renewed every three years. If they cannot prove pay equality, the offending private or public company will face fines.

Iceland consistently ranks at number one in the World Economic Forum's gender equality ranking.

Dagny Osk Aradottir Pind, a board member of the Icelandic Women's Rights Association, told Al-Jazeera that, despite Iceland having gender equality legislation "for decades now", there still remains a pay gap between men and women in the country.

Many countries, such as Australia, have provisions for complaints of sex discrimination (such as those relating to pay). In Australia, such complaints are to be made with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Australian employers have also recently been encouraged to undertake gender pay gap analysis by the government, with some companies of over 100 employees to submit a report on gender composition and comparative remuneration.

"The difference is that although [some companies] do have to report [they] don't get fined," said Marian Baird, Professor of Work and Organisation Studies form Sydney Business School. She points out that the Icelandic law targets smaller companies: 25 employees compared to Australia's 100-employee rule.

If reporting mechanisms similar to the Icelandic model are already in place, does this mean Australia could take the steps of fining or sanctioning offending companies? Perhaps, says Baird.

"It will always face opposition in industry groups," she said. "But there's an appetite."

"The community and employees would prefer more equity."

Libby Lyons, the director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency says that Australian industry "do not want to be burdened with further regulation," and that employers should "act voluntarily".

"The Icelandic legislation may well see positive outcomes... [but] it is unclear whether [it] will help to address deep-seated cultural and structural problems."

The change in Icelandic law comes at a heated time for global womens rights, with anti-sexual assault campaigns such as #MeToo and #TimesUp trending.

But with the overall global pay gap widening last year from 31.7 per cent to 32 per cent it is clear the fight is still far from over.

According to the World Economic Forum, women are not only encumbered with a pay gap for the same work, but also additional stresses such as being "more likely to work in industries with lower average pay", and "having to undertake part-time work" due to family commitments.

In Australia, the full time gender pay gap currently lies at 15.3 per cent, and is down by 0.9 per cent in the last year.

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