Current situation
Involuntary part-time work as equality challenge
Comment


International Women's Day is celebrated on 8 March each year. Norway is among the best countries in the world when it comes to gender equality, including equality at work. But despite increased awareness and regulation, there are still differences between women's and men's income and career patterns.

Current situation

The Norwegian Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act places a general ban on gender discrimination in the workplace. The ban applies to all aspects of the conditions of employment, including:

  • employment itself;
  • promotion;
  • skills development;
  • the determination of pay; and
  • working conditions.

Nevertheless, surveys show that women and men still do not rank equally. Women had an average income 12.4% lower than men in 2022.

Part of the reason for the disparity is that the labour market is divided by gender – Norwegian women and men are relatively traditional in their career choices. More women still work in low-paid occupations, part time and in the public sector. But studies show that women on average also earn less than men working the same job.

Parliament's work for gender equality has intensified in recent years. According to the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act, all employers are subject to a general duty of activity related to equality. For public and larger private enterprises, stricter requirements have been introduced, which came into force from 2020. These businesses have a duty to:

  • map the risk of discrimination and barriers to equality in their operations;
  • justify the reasons for the findings; and
  • implement suitable measures.

Among other things, they are required to have an overview of gender distribution at position level, carry out equal pay surveys (every two years) and publish annual equality reports. The purpose is to promote equal pay in practice.

In the European Union, too, there has been a focus on the issue of equal pay. In 2021, the European Commission put forward a proposal for an equal pay directive with the aim of promoting increased transparency and fairer pay conditions. Among other things, it has been proposed that:

  • employers must document that unequal pay is not related to gender; and
  • employees should be able to claim compensation under specific conditions.

Overall, the directive operates with the same intentions and objectives as the Norwegian rules that came into force in 2020.

Involuntary part-time work as equality challenge

A significant factor for the wage differences in Norway is the use of part-time work. In 2021, 37% of female employees worked part time. This is more than double the proportion of men, which stands at 17%. The salary level for part-time positions is also frequently lower than for full-time positions. For many women, part-time work is a voluntary adjustment to working life. But it cannot be ignored that involuntary part-time work is a widespread situation in both the public and private sectors.

On the legislative side, efforts have therefore been made in recent years to reduce involuntary part-time work. As part of the stricter activity and reporting obligation, public and larger private employers have been required to map how widespread involuntary part-time work is in the workplace.

On 1 January 2023, a full-time norm was also enacted into law in the Working Environment Act, which will strengthen the right to a full-time position. Employers who wish to work part time instead of full time must now document the need and discuss the matter with employee representatives. Furthermore, part-time employees' preferential right to increase their employment percentage has been strengthened.

Comment

Norway is, together with the other Nordic countries, among the best countries in the world when it comes to gender equality (gender equality index). However, there is still a way to go. If full gender equality is to be achieved, efforts to promote it must continue – both at the societal level and in the workplace.

Systematic work with equality and diversity can provide important benefits for the business, such as reduced absenteeism, lower turnover and increased efficiency. A natural starting point towards these aims will be to regularly review the equality situation in the workplace, create good leave arrangements and foster a culture for real equality at various levels in the business.

For further information on this topic please contact Ole Kristian Olsby or Mari Vindedal at Homble Olsby | Littler by telephone (+47 23 89 75 70) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Homble Olsby | Littler website can be accessed at www.homble-olsby.no.