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Three Swedish initiatives for increased gender equality

| Text: Kerstin Ahlberg, editor EU & Arbetsrätt

It calls itself ‘the world’s first feminist government’, and with three new initiatives the Swedish government shows it is living up to the name: A more equal occupational injury insurance system, a review of parental benefits to ensure it creates a more equal situation for both parents and finally there will be a strengthening of the discrimination act.

The problem with Sweden’s occupational injury insurance is that women who seek compensation as a result of workplace accidents are far less likely to succeed than men. According to the terms of reference to a commission appointed by the government in January, the differences stem from the fact that women and men to a large extent work in different occupations, and that there are more acknowledged occupational injuries in the male-dominated parts of the labour market. 

Not enough research

This could in turn be because work environment research into female-dominated sectors and the types of illnesses women report as occupational injuries is less developed. For an employee to get compensation the injury must in all probability be a result of an injurious action at the workplace. It is also more difficult to prove that an illness has been caused by a person’s work than to establish that an injury was caused by a workplace accident – which happens more often to men than women. 

In order to make the insurance more gender neutral, the government authority responsible (Försäkringskassan), which decides whether an illness should be recognised as an occupational injury, needs more knowledge of what impact the work environment has in terms of various illnesses. The new commission is tasked with coming up with proposals for how this can be addressed. 

Problem on its head

When it comes to parental benefits and parental leave, the issue is turned on its head; more women than men make use of it. As a result, women’s wages rise slower, they have fewer career opportunities, a higher rate of sick leave and a lower general income. This in turn has major consequences for women’s pensions. That is why the government has asked for an investigation into measures which will make parents share parental leave and parental pay more equally. 

This will include looking into whether to introduce more so-called daddy months, which would mean a period of parental leave which the parents cannot share, but which will be lost if the father does not use it. 

New discrimination act

The government’s plans have advanced the furthest when it comes to the discrimination act. Proposed legislation was introduced in early February. It will tighten up rules on how employers identify discriminating wage differences. In future they must present an annual salary survey in order to discover and eliminate wage differences and other employment conditions which discriminate between women and men.

This means a return to the system which existed before the former centre-right government came to power in 2006. It felt salary surveys only needed to be presented every third year, and changed the gender equality act in order to ease the employers’ administrative burden. 

However, the current government feels there are more benefits than disadvantages to more frequent salary surveys.

Easier after a while

This means stronger protection for the individual worker, because differences will show up and can be rectified faster. The government admits that this could mean a lot of work for the employers the first time they carry out a salary survey, but it argues that it will become easier as employers learn how to do it and get into a routine. By waiting three years, you risk losing that knowledge and the employer must start from scratch every time. But if the salary survey is updated annually, the time and effort required to do it will be limited, the government says.

 
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