As Norway’s royals and top government officials hosted the first state visit from the President of Iceland in 20 years this week, equality experts were urging them to follow Iceland’s lead in mandating equal pay under the law. “It’s a joy that Iceland is taking creative new steps in the work to abolish unfair pay differences between women and men,” Norway’s equality ombud Hanne Bjurstrøm of the Labour Party told newspaper Dagsavisen.
Bjurstrøm was praising how Iceland has become the first country in the world to legislate equal pay. Icelandic officials have themselves called the measure “radical,” but claim it had simply become “intolerable” that men on average earn more than women.
“It is our duty to do something about that,” Iceland’s equality minister, Thorsteinn Viglundsson, told Dagsavisen.
Women in Iceland earn, on average, 20 percent less than men. In Norway, newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported last week, the gap is around 14 percent. Pay differences are also greatest among full-time employees and those with higher education.
State statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) recently completed its most comprehensive study ever of pay differences between men and women. Norwegian women’s average monthly pay is currently 86 percent of men’s, up only three points from 83 percent when study was done 17 years ago.
“There is very, very slow development in evening out the differences from the beginning of the 2000s,” Sigrun Kristoffersen, the senior SSB adviser who led the study, said when presenting its results. She has researched whether worktime, pay levels, industries, sectors, education and age can help explain why the pay gap is still so wide.
Whatever the reason, Iceland is taking steps to close the gap by making it illegal. Viglundsson believes Norwegian officials could simply copy the Icelandic law, which applies to all employers with more than 25 employees in both the public and private sector. In some ways it’s similar to Norway’s law that at least 40 percent of the members of all boards of directors of companies with more than 50 employees must be women. That forced companies to include more women in top decision-making. Iceland now expects to see its pay gap close by 2022.
Bjurstrøm thinks Norway’s equality minister, Solveig Horne, should have a meeting with her Icelandic counterpart. Horne did speak with Viglundsson at the UN in New York recently and notes that Norwegian law already calls for men and women in the same job to have equal pay for the same work.
There were many other meetings between Norwegian officials and their guests from Iceland this week. They were discussing everything from fishing to environmental issues, along with their joint trade agreement with the EU and Brexit. Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thordarsson, for example, signed a declaration with Norway’s EU Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen to strenghten their cooperation on issues tied to their European Economic Area (EØS) pact with the EU. Bakke-Jensen called their market access deal with the EU “the foundation of Norway’s and Iceland’s economies.”
Norway’s royal family, meanwhile, rolled out the red carpet for Iceland’s President Gudni Jóhannesson and his wife Eliza Reid, who were treated to all the ceremony and splendour of state visits. After a formal welcome on the grounds of the Royal Palace, King Harald and Queen Sonja invited the presidential couple inside for photographs, gift exchanges and a reception with the king’s sister, Princess Astrid, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit.
Then it was off to the Akershus Fortress and Castle for a traditional wreath-laying at the National Monument to victims of World War II. There were also seminars on equality in the workplace and the “Nordic Model,” a visit to the Parliament and a royal banquet back at the palace Tuesday evening with 184 guests who dined on shellfish and halibut, followed by a Black Forest cake with chocolate mousse. On Wednesday the Icelandic couple was treated to a government luncheon at Akershus, visited a research park adjacent to the University of Oslo (Forskningsparken) and the National Library, where Iceland’s foreign minister presented 500 copies of the Norwegian version of a complete set of the Icelandic sagas, for Norwegian libraries. Norway and Iceland share a common heritage in Norse mythology, the sagas and the Viking age. The state visit would run through Thursday, with the Icelandic guests spending their final day with King Harald in Bergen.