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Government working on bill to enforce equal pay

The Labour Inspectorate would analyze tax data, and conduct audits where necessary.
The Labour Inspectorate would analyze tax data, and conduct audits where necessary. Source: (PA Wire/Scanpix)

To tackle the problem of Estonia’s gender pay gap, the Ministry of Social Affairs wants the Labour Inspectorate to start checking tax data and auditing companies to make sure women and men are paid the same amount of money for the same kind of work.

Jobs typically done by women, such as those of kindergarten teachers, nurses, and caretakers, generally paid less. On top of that, women were often paid less for the same work than men. This contradicts the law, but is common practice, as there is currently no supervision.

While gender issues are generally addressed by the office of Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner Liisa Pakosta, the Ministry of Social Affairs would rather have the Labour Inspectorate conduct the necessary checks.

Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) told ETV’s “Aktuaalne Kaamera” newscast on Sunday that they had worked out a model that would allow them to follow whether or not companies paid men and women equal salaries. “And we’ve seen that this role or function could be taken on by the Labour Inspectorate, which is generally the administrative organ in such a labor market,” Ossinovski said.

The inspectorate would work based on data by the Tax and Customs Board. Wherever discrepancies would occur, the inspectorate could then conduct an audit.

The office of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner typically deals with complaints concerning unequal treatment, and sees to it that all law concerning gender equality is observed. But according to Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner Lisa Pakosta, the office so far lacked the resources to really look into unequal pay.

The number of people turning to her office for help had increased by 59 percent in 2016, Pakosta said. They were currently concentrating on the cases where they could offer quick and specific help, but didn’t actually have the time to address every complaint that reached them.

To deal with the gender pay gap in more detail, her office would need additional staff, Pakosta said. She disagrees with Ossinovski and doesn’t understand why the Labour Inspection should be given funding instead.

“We know the practice of other countries and their gender equality commissioners very well, what works and what doesn’t. We have pretty good knowledge [of that], and can use a network all across Europe, and a well-designed methodology to establish whether or not something is fair,” Pakosta said.

From the perspective of her own practice, Pakosta thinks salary audits like Ossinovski suggests them are too strict. Such a measure would force employers to justify the salaries they pay, and once an unequal salary was justified in proper procedure, they wouldn’t increase it anyway, Pakosta added.

The minister sees this differently, pointing to the fact that the main effect of the Labour Inspectorate’s new competence area would be to raise awareness. The idea wasn’t to issue directives and collect fines, but to make employers invest time and resources in the issue, Ossinovski said. “Awareness has increased in recent years, but is still pretty low,” the minister added.

Gender pay gap in the public sector as big as in the private sector

Pakosta is also worried by the fact that the gender pay gap in the public and private sectors is about the same. With Ossinovski’s model, this would be a problem, as the Labour Inspectorate’s jurisdiction is limited to the private sector.

The office of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner could look into any contractual relationship across all sectors, Pakosta pointed out. “People can turn to us as well when they apply for a job and see that the situation is unfair,” Pakosta said. The Labour Inspectorate could only act if a matter concerned a contract in the private sector.

Ossinovski doesn’t see this as a problem. The inspectorate’s legal basis would be changed according to the new situation, the minister said. The public sector would have to be the focus of any campaign anyway, and needed to be a role model for the rest of the country.

About the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner, Ossinovski said that the new model wouldn’t lessen the position’s importance and meaning.

The government is working on the bill to give the Labour Inspectorate the mandate to perform checks and audits to ensure equal pay. Part of the process are negotiations with employers as well as trade unions. The Ministry of Social Affairs is aiming at early 2018 for the new law to enter into effect.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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