Sweden – setting an example

Sweden has one of the highest levels of gender equality in the world. Despite continuing to experience  occupational segregation in its labour market (although it’s slowly declining), Sweden has managed to tackle some of the inequalities created by pay disparities both between, and within, employment sectors by introducing stronger legislation. So how has it done this?

Reporting on pay
The Act on Equality Between Men and Women, so-called “proactive” legislation,  that requires all employers to report annually on the gender statistics of their employees (however individuals’ pay information is still protected by privacy laws), which is then presented to trade unions. Such reports allow unions to take into account not only data regarding pay between employees in the same position but also across sectors, and generally it has increased transparency across the country. Not only that  – all firms with over 10 members of staff must draw up an action plan as to how they will achieve equal wages and equal opportunities for all of their staff.

In addition, employers are legally required to carry out a review of an employee’s salary once they have returned from full-time parental leave, as traditionally returners are notoriously less well-paid than colleagues who have not had time off.

Defining “equal value”
Often equal pay cases brought before the courts have failed when trying to establish that a position is of “equal value”. However, in 2004 the government decided to review the Equal Opportunities Act which redefined the term, “work of equal value”. Up until now it has often been argued that wages are higher for a man in a private-sector post (particularly relevant since most male-dominated positions are in the private sector ) compared to a public sector post, because it has a higher market value, with the result that male-dominated career are judged as having a higher market value.  Such evaluation has been termed “value discrimination” and is an issue that is being challenged in the courts.

See also

Equal Opportunities: Sweden paves the way, by Karin Alfredsson


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