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Nordic region leading by example

| By Björn Lindahl, acting editor

The most important thing the Nordics can do to contribute to the ILO is to lead by example. That was the message from the Director-General Guy Ryder during the fourth and final conference on the Future of Work, held in Reykjavik.

The conferences and a major research program on the Nordic labour market models are financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers, and lead up to the ILO’s centenary celebrations.

You do not often meet people who heads organisations with 187 member countries, and who knows the Nordic model as well as Guy Ryder does. He knows how it performs differently in different countries and also at different points in time. 

The Nordic models are in fact models for how to handle change. That is how Iceland could pull through its crisis as fast as it did, and that is also why the Nordic countries top different welfare rankings, pointed out Guy Ryder.  

The ILO is a tripartite organisation where both governments and employers’ and employees’ organisations are members. Denmark, Norway and Sweden were founding members. Finland joined a year later and Iceland after the country gained independence in 1944.

When the ILO established an international commission to come up with suggestions for how the organisation could develop, it thought it natural to ask a Nordic prime minister to lead the commission. Stefan Löfven, together with South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, was given the task. The commission presented its report in February, which contained ten very concrete proposals.

The conference and the annual meeting of the Nordic labour ministers is the theme for this edition of the NLJ. The ministers’ meeting decided to launch a research project to find out why so few girls chose to study the subjects which are important when going into a future where digitalisation, artificial intelligence and bioscience will be increasingly important.

We have also been looking at some of the political reforms that Iceland has been praised for, and at how they work in practice.

The equal pay standard is a certification process where companies with more than 25 employees must document how they set their wages. This is a comprehensive process which forces management to consider why there is still a wage gap between men and women when this cannot be explained by education, working tasks, part-time work or other objective differences between employees. 

The NLJ has visited the Regional Development Institute Byggðastofnun in Sauðárkrókur, one of the first businesses to introduce the equal pay standard. Some criticise it for being too rigid. Individual efforts cannot be rewarded, everyone who performs a certain type of tasks is payed exactly the same. Byggðastofnun employees are organised in The Confederation of Icelandic Bank and Finance Employees, whose leader Friðbert Traustason goes as far as calling the equal pay standard “the employers’ best weapon”.

Perhaps the equal pay standard need some more time to function without such consequences. This does not mean there is no need to use resources to narrow the gender pay gap, which in Norway stands at 13 % after adjustment for education, trades, part-time work and other factors, according to the Work Research Institute. 

There is a lot of support in Iceland for the extension of parental leave to 12 months, with five months each for the mother and father, and two months which they can share as they see fit. Yet one big obstacle for improved gender equality at home still remains – overtime work. In Iceland this makes up a major part of the salary, and it is men who mostly work extra.

But being a parent and working does not always clash, pointed out Ingólfur Gíslason, Iceland’s leading researcher on the topic.

“People who have fun at work and good colleagues are also better parents.”


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