Iceland becomes first country to make firms prove equal pay

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Charlotte Duck
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Before you consider emigrating to Denmark to indulge in all things hygge, Canada, the happiest place outside Europe, or Australia’s Canberra, recently named the best place to live for quality of life, somewhere else has just popped onto our list of destinations to relocate to in 2017 and it’s all down to pay equality. 

To coincide with International Women’s Day, Iceland has become the first country to make it compulsory for firms to prove that all employees, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity or sexuality, are paid fairly for the work they do. Add to this the fact that Iceland has some of the most stunning scenery in the world and the Northern Lights and it’s looking like a very attractive place to live.

The pioneering new law, which will hopefully be introduced by 2020, dictates that every company with 25 or more employees must have a certificate demonstrating pay equality.

Though Iceland is not the first country to bring in such legislation – Switzerland has something similar, though it’s not mandatory, while the US state of Minnesota requires businesses contracted by or seeking contracts with the government to prove equality – it’s thought to be the first nation to make documentation mandatory across both private and public companies.

“The time is right to do something radical about this issue,” said Equality and Social Affairs Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson.

“Equal rights are human rights. We need to make sure that men and women enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace. It is our responsibility to take every measure to achieve that.”

Hitting back at claims that the new law would be a burden on small businesses, Viglundsson added: "We put such burdens on companies all the time when it comes to auditing your annual accounts or turning in your tax report.

"You have to dare to take new steps, to be bold in the fight against injustice." 

This new decree hasn’t come completely out of the blue: Iceland has long been spearheading moves to reduce the gender pay gap and is aiming to abolish it completely by 2022. There’s already has a law in place whereby 40% of company boards must be women and it has been ranked top in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for eight years running.

So if you’re a woman wanting to advance your career in the most egalitarian workplace in the world, it might be worth looking out for jobs in Reykjavik. 

But, like many countries, even Iceland still has a way to go. In October, female employees in the country walked out of workplaces at 2.38pm in protest at the pay disparity between themselves and their male counterparts. In a typical eight-hour working day, this is the time from which women are working without pay – they still earn on average 14-18% less than men.

By comparison, most industrialised nations have a pay disparity of 15.5%, but this figure is significantly higher in the UK – at 17.5%. 

Let’s hope it won’t be long before Iceland’s blueprint for eliminating pay inequality is rolled out elsewhere or we all might be dusting off our thick coats and boarding a flight.

Images: iStock