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Iceland's Confederation of Labour turns 100 in a more equal labour market

| Text: Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir, photo: Private

ASÍ - the Icelandic Confederation of Labour - is 100 years old this year. The anniversary is being celebrated with music and conferences in four different locations in Iceland in March. During this anniversary year one authority, one organisation or one company will probably be certified for Iceland's new equal wage standard.

Iceland has spent years developing a certified wage standard to guarantee complete gender equality when it comes to salaries. The work is nearing its end. More than 20 authorities, organisations and companies are spearheading the preparation of the certification. Several of them have reached a stage where it is soon time for an evaluation which will lead to the final rubber-stamping of the standard.

“The authorities are holding back, because an evaluation is costly. They want to be absolutely sure that the certified wage standard will be approved before requesting an evaluation,” explains Guðný Einarsdóttir at the Icelandic Ministry of Finance.

“But I am hopeful that two authorities will be requesting and evaluation this year,” she continues.

The National Land Service of Iceland is one of the authorities which is ready for an evaluation. Their head of human resources, Jónína Valdimarsdóttir, says the land service continuously works with wage issues in a professional manner and is waiting for a chance to be evaluated. She hopes this will happen as soon as possible.

Business Iceland to introduce the standard

SA Business Iceland was originally behind the initiative to create the certified wage standard and has pushed for its development. SA has now decided to adopt it. Director General Hannes Sigurðsson hopes the organisation is ready to be evaluated within a year. 

“You need to satisfy many different requirements when it comes to working procedures before you are ready to be evaluated. We are not quite there yet, but later this year I will know more about how this will pan out,” says Hannes Sigurðsson.

It has not been easy to develop the certified wage standard. It is a tool box with strict rules for procedures and working methods, for example the documentation of working procedures which you need to introduce and follow.

“I don’t know whether we will be the first organisation to be evaluated, but we try to push things forward in order to make this happen quite soon,” says Hannes.

ASÍ also aims to introduce the standard to their offices. ASÍ’s Director General Guðrún Ágústa Guðmundsdóttir feels it is an important and exciting project. She hopes companies, authorities and municipalities will introduce the standard as soon as possible. 

The National and University Library of Iceland, Landsbókasafn Íslands – Háskólabókasafn, has also worked towards introducing the certified wage standard. The library has had an employment evaluation system for some time, to make sure it adheres to all wage demands.

But the evaluation is expensive. The head of finance, Edda G. Björgvinsdóttir, is not sure whether it is worth going through an evaluation. She says this is something the national library’s management is considering right now.

A tool against discrimination

Iceland’s new certified wage standard has had a lot of international attention. Guðný Einarsdóttir says foreign visitors are curious; they would like to know how far preparations have come and how things are being done. 

The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, visited Iceland in April 2015. Guðný says she was fascinated. 

“Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka put pressure on us. She wants us to finalise the standard as soon as possible and to start exporting it,” says Guðný.

The certified wage standard is an important tool in the fight against gender pay gaps in the labour market. The gap will narrow in line with the number of workplaces which adapt the standard, goes the argument. The aim is to get rid of gender pay gaps altogether by 2022, according to Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.

But the certified wage standard also works well in the fight against general discrimination. Guðný Einarsdóttir believes it will be a fantastic tool to fight all kinds of discrimination. 

“Companies and authorities which use the certification will not be discriminating people based on their backgrounds, sexuality or other things,” says Guðný.  

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