Iceland Could Insist On Proof Of Equal Pay

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On Tuesday, the government of Iceland officially introduced legislation that requires employers to prove that they are paying women and men equally for their work. If the proposed equal pay legislation passes through the Icelandic Parliament, as is expected, then Iceland will become the first country in the world to require certification from both public and private companies that they are paying their employees equally for equal work.

The proposed legislation is part of Iceland's plan to eliminate the gender pay gap by 2022 and constitutes one of Iceland's many progressive initiatives to achieve gender equality. In 2015, the country established a five-year gender equality fund and also committed to using half of the grants from this fund for international equality endeavors. Furthermore, the country has a record number of women in parliament (48 percent) and has been ranked number one for equality on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index for the past six years.

However, despite Iceland's many impressive and progressive endeavors to improve gender equality, a relatively large pay gap between Icelandic men and women still exists, with women making around 14-18 percent less than men, as reported by the World Economic Forum. Thus, a desire to close this outstanding gap and reach Iceland's pay equity goal by 2022 helped spark the proposal of this month's equal pay legislation.

The proposed legislation will require all public and private companies with 25 or more employees to acquire certification stating that they provide equal pay for work of equal value. If the legislation passes, companies will be expected to comply with this requirement by the year 2022. While Iceland has had more general equal pay laws for around 50 years, the "activist" nature of this legislation—in that puts the burden of proving equal pay on companies—is expected to help accelerate the closing of the gender pay gap.

Iceland is not the first-ever country to propose that employers certify that they provide equal pay; indeed, several others countries have enacted this requirement, as has, interestingly, the state of Minnesota. However, Iceland's proposed law is novel in that it requires both public and private employers to provide certified evidence of equal pay for equal work. No other country or U.S. state has ever enacted such a comprehensive equal pay certification requirement.

Iceland's commitment to gender equality and to taking proactive measures to try to rapidly close the gender pay gap should serve as an inspiration to all other countries. As Thorsteinn Viglundsson, Iceland's Equality and Social Affairs Minister stated, "Equal rights are human rights. We need to make sure that men and women enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace...You have to dare to take new steps, to be bold in the fight against injustice." Other countries should heed Viglundsson's words and consider following Iceland's lead when it comes to promoting gender equality with concerted and comprehensive legislation.