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JUHANI ARTTO
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Efforts to narrow the gender pay gap have not been effective

Helsinki (08.03.2011 - Juhani Artto) A number of influential people have recently voiced alarm at how slowly the gender pay gap in Finland is being narrowed. Among them have been Leila Kostiainen, the Secretary General of the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK and Pentti Arajärvi, a professor who has, since 2009, headed the high-level group monitoring the implementation of the government's equal pay programme.

In 2006 the government and the central labour market organizations approved as their common goal to raise, by 2015, women's pay to 85 per cent of men's pay. Back then, in 2006, women earned, on average, 80.9 per cent of what men earned.

Three years later - in 2009 - the gap was almost as wide. The women's euro had grown to 81.8 cents. The trend is not promising as the improvement over the last three years has been marginal to say the least. The gap has not narrowed more or even reached the same level as the early 2000's show when figures show that the women's euro was 82 cents.

This is disappointing as in the course of these years many kinds of genuine efforts have been made to narrow the gender pay gap and also as there has been no principal opposition to it.

The figures express women's average pay as percentage of men's average pay in respect of their regular working hour work. In the total earnings calculation women earn, on average, 70 per cent of men's average earnings.

In the following the major issues and factors, connected to the gender pay gap in Finland, are briefly outlined.

Segregation

The Finnish labour market is divided more deeply along the lines of women's verses men's vocations than in most other European countries. Women tend to work in sectors and vocations that belong to the low-pay categories. Typically it means work in the service sectors, in social and health care and in local government jobs.

Women and men have been encouraged to choose careers that differ from the traditional choices but the traditional pattern - segregation - has prevailed. In recent years more women have turned to "men's vocations" than men to "women's vocations".

Among the factors causing the persistent gender pay gap this kind of segregation is the most important factor.

Pay system reforms, family leaves

A certain degree of expectation has been placed on pay system reforms. The goal here has been to make visible how demanding various jobs are and to ensure equal pay for jobs that are equally demanding. This approach should overcome subjective appreciation of various jobs and provide fairness or ‘fair-play’ to all wage and salary earners.

A new study (English language abstract on page 5) indicates that pay system reforms have in practice had a positive impact. "However, this positive outcome does not apply to all employees. The gender pay gap has narrowed most considerably at the upper end of the pay scale, that is, among the highest paid or among those performing the most demanding job tasks".

Pay system reforms seem also to have had a negative impact on the gender pay gap, the researchers discovered. "The reforms of pay systems have, on the other hand, not succeeded in reducing the major impact on job task segregation across genders on the average male-female pay gap. Instead, the situation seems to have even worsened for at least certain employee
categories."

The study also confirmed results of previous studies on the impact of family leaves. Especially after return from longer family leaves the pay development for mothers with young children has remained weaker than the pay development for other women.

Gender equality plans, pay surveys

The Act on Equality between Women and Men obliges work places with 30 employees or more to create an equality plan which includes a pay survey. The purpose of these obligations is to produce concrete data on eventual gender inequality with a view to abolishing gender based pay discrimination.

According to a study (English language abstract on pages 7-8), published in March 2010, this idea has not led to significant changes. The research material concerns the years 2008-2009.

Awareness of the obligations is rather high, as over 90 per cent of all work places concerned knew about them but more than a third of work places had not yet produced equality plans. More important still may be the following conclusion made by the researchers. "The quality of equality plans, however, still leaves some room for improvement: the measures included in the plans are not always concrete and there are cases where no agreements have been reached on how to follow up the measures."

Also the results of pay surveys have remained modest, the study indicates. "It is likely that some of the surveys focused merely on studying the salaries, instead of comparing them as part of the process of equality planning." Pay surveys had been conducted in 60 per cent of work places with 30 employees or more.

"The respondents found it challenging to name any concrete effects that have come out of equality plans. A majority estimated, however, that the equality plan has had some positive effects. It turned out that equality plans have had most impact in two important areas: reconciliation of work and family life and in lessening harassment and discrimination."

Women see less progress having happened than men

Opinions on the way in which gender equality is accomplished at work places have been surveyed in 1997, 2003 and 2008. Apprehensions on the gender equality of both sexes have become more positive but there is a clear distinction between the development of men's and women's opinions.

In 1997 a quarter of both sexes judged the accomplishment as "fairly well". In 2003 this proportion had risen to 27 per cent among women cent and to 33 per cent among men, and by 2008 the difference had grown still larger. The "fairly well" provision among women was 30 per cent and among men 40 per cent.

The differentiation of opinions is significant as it also has an impact on how much pressure there is at work places for a change in women's status. No credible explanations have been offered on why opinions are differentiated in this way.

The government

In October 2010 the government approved a report on gender equality and submitted it for parliamentary consideration. It was the first time this happened in Finland. The 214-page report only briefly addresses the gender pay gap question and efforts to narrow it. The EUR150 million allocated by the government to support pay rises in collective agreements at female-dominated sectors in the municipalities is mentioned.

Collective bargaining, labour market organizations

An overwhelming majority of wage and salary earners in Finland are covered by collective agreements. Thus, the labour market organizations have a central role in the development of the gender pay gap. Employer organizations have not shown any interest on narrowing the gap. It has been the unions that have fought for narrower gender pay gap.

In the past the comprehensive income-policy agreements often included a modest extra provision to improve women's wages and salaries. In recent years two interesting phenomena can be registered. In the female-dominated municipal sector the agreements have yielded slightly higher rises than the agreements in general. And the other phenomenon: In Autumn 2007 the largest union in the also female-dominated health care sector TEHY succeeded in struggling for pay rises that exceeded those in other sectors of working life.

"Not in the discussions on labour market policy"

On 14 January 2011 Leila Kostiainen, the Secretary General of the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK, stated in her interview in the weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti the following: "The gap between women's and men's pay is in no way handled in the discussion on labour market policies."

According to Kostiainen interest in the issue from politicians has faded. Stefan Wallin, the minister responsible for equality issues, has done his best but he has been left without any real support, Kostiainen notes critically.

In the interview she admits that the slower than expected progress is not caused by the employers only. The trade union movement has also approved solutions that have slowed down the development or even turned it back.

Should male-dominated unions then scale down their own demands for the benefit of others, the magazine asks.

"No, there is no need for them to scale down their own demands, but they must learn to tolerate better agreements made by female-dominated unions", Kostiainen stresses.

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