As It Happens

Iceland set to become world's first country to require equal pay

The nation's proposed legislation would require employers to prove wage equality.
(Keystone/Getty Images)

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Iceland is set to become the first country in the world to force companies to provide proof that they're paying all their employees the same amount for the same work — regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality.

Iceland's social affairs and equality minister made the announcement Wednesday, on International Women's Day, insisting "the time is right to do something radical about this issue."
Thordis Loa is the CEO of the tourism company Gray Line Iceland. (Thordis Loa Thorhallsdottir/Twitter)

Thordis Loa is recognized internationally for her work on the empowerment of women. As she told The Guardian, she remembers standing alongside her mother when she was 10 years old at Iceland's historical Women's Day Off strike in 1975. Loa is now the CEO of the tourism company Gray Line Iceland. She spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the proposed legislation.

Carol Off: Ms. Loa, as you know, Iceland is already well ahead of the pack for women in the work force. Why is this law necessary?

Thordis Loa: We have had the law of equal pay for many years and equal law for gender for many years. But we have not really seen any good progress in equal pay for decades now, so I think it's time that we take this action. I think people here, at least women, are very satisfied that we are going to be making some strong programs for real.

CO: I understand how it works is employers who have more than 25 people on their staff will need to obtain certification to prove that they are providing equal pay for work of equal value for men and women.

TL: Yes, I believe that will be how it will be done. But they will start with the larger companies and then step-by-step make that real for the smaller companies as well.

It's going to take a lot of time. But if we just wait, nothing will happen, at least not very fast.- Thordis Loa

CO: Your country is well ahead of others in trying to equalize men and women and it's all evolving in that direction more and more, including the pay is improving. Why not just let this evolve naturally with the laws that are already there? Why push this one step further?

TL: Because we've been pushing this systematically since 1975. We've seen indication of change, but very slow. We think, if we really want to make a social change, we need strong actions because otherwise we would be waiting for decades. I think this mentality is also maybe a little bit the reason why Iceland is number one when it comes to gender equality because there is no tolerance for just waiting and waiting and waiting.

CO: You say that this has been a fight since 1975. In general, for many countries, it's been about that time that there's been these kinds of demands, measures, protests, agitation for it. Why do you think that Iceland did end up doing so much better for women over these decades?

TL: I think in a way, or at least I've hoped, that there's been a consensus in between the people of Iceland to make this good society for all. The legislation and the steps we've been taking for the last 30 years, they've all been towards equality in the workforce, equality in society. We have taken lots of measures when it comes to care of children and schooling and health, to make sure that both genders have the same possibility.

A crowd gathered outside the Icelandic parliament in Reykjavik. Iceland will be the first country to make employers prove they offer equal pay regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality. (Frank Augstein/AP)

CO: The world recognizes Iceland as being so advanced. Eighty per cent of Icelandic women are in the workforce. There's mandatory quotas for board members on companies, universities, students. But at the same time, 22 per cent of managers are women, only 30 per cent of experts on TV women and women earn 14 per cent less than men. So, even with all the things that Iceland has done, why is there still this gap?

TL: Because we're not there yet. It shows you, exactly, these numbers show us that this is the reason why need to take those steps — why we need to keep on doing this, all the way. It's going to take time. It's going to take a lot of time. But if we just wait, nothing will happen, at least not very fast. We need to push things with legislation, with quotas, for something to happen and then slowly the mentality changes.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Thordis Loa.

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