Equality issues

BSRB shall ensure that the government and employers work systematically towards equality by ensuring equal opportunities and equal treatment of people in the labour market. It is especially important to secure equal status and equal opportunities irrespective of race, ethnic origin, religion, life stance, disability, impaired ability to work, age, sexual orientation, sexuality, gender or sexual expression, language, residency, social position or financial position. The federation shall also work specifically towards the empowerment of marginalised groups.

Equality shall be held as a guiding principle in all operations of BSRB. The federation shall offer dynamic equality education to member associations and members, promote all people working toward these important interests of wage earners and ensure that work is carried out in accordance with the rules applying to safety and equality in the labour market and in social activities.

The gender status in the labour market

Significant gender division is the main cause of the gender wage gap in the Icelandic labour market, where one gender is by far the highest proportion in a number of industries. Employment participation of women in Iceland is very high; just over a third of women are in part-time employment because they carry the main responsibility of caring for the family and managing the household. Women are also out of the labour market for longer than men after childbirth due to the parental leave necessary to bridge the gap of caring for the child from when the parental leave finishes until a slot in day care is secured. This has a significantly negative impact on income, wage developments and opportunities for career development for women as well as pension rights.

There is also a considerable difference between women and men when it comes to positions of authority and influence where women are yet to receive equal pay. Actions must be taken in each field in order to eliminate differences in position and a wage gap in the labour market based on gender, foreign origin and work capacity.

Family friendly society

In order to develop a family friendly society, BSRB is of the opinion that it is important that in all public policy formulation and financial planning, equality in salaried and unsalaried work is systematically worked towards. Equality education at all levels of schooling and in the labour market must be ensured. It is important that government policies have the reconciliation of work and family life at the forefront.

Parallel with the work of eliminating the gender wage gap, parents’ opportunities to care for their children must be equalised and their opportunities to spend quality time with their families must be increased.

BSRB considers it of high priority to improve the position of lower income families. It is important to ensure that all children live in a home with secure financial income, have housing security and have the opportunity to take part in sports and leisure activities. Equal society will not be built unless all families can offer their children comparable opportunities irrespective of financial position and residency. It is important to strengthen public transport and make them more affordable.

Iceland stands out against the other Nordic countries as regards child benefit. The Nordic welfare system generally assumes that the entitlement to child benefit remains the same for all children irrespective of their parents’ financial position, with the exception of the Danish welfare system where child benefit is reduced for people earning average or above average income. In Iceland, only the parents with the very lowest income receive full child benefit. The child benefit system is unfocused and, in some cases, a random support to the people with the very lowest income; minimum wage recipients receive highly reduced benefits. BSRB is of the opinion that it is necessary to review the Icelandic system from the ground up and preferably look to the Danish system as a model. A new child benefit system needs to be built based on the best available data on the needs of different families and varied family structures. Thus, it must be ensured that children can have more than one home that receives comparable support through the child benefit system. Child benefit must follow wage developments, and benefits must not be reduced if the income of parents is lower than the equivalent of the income criteria. Child benefit must also be the same for all children irrespective of age.

The extension of maternity/paternity leave to 12 months is a significant step forward. The law, however, does not ensure equal participation of parents on maternity/paternity leave, and the experience has shown that it is likely that women take longer parental leave than men, thus leaving women out of the labour market for even longer than before. It is therefore important that employers support men in taking paternity leave aligned to that of women. Equal participation of the genders in taking parental leave promotes that the aim of the law, to ensure a child’s access to both parents and to enable parents to balance professional and private lives, is achieved. Maximum payments during parental leave must be raised, payments that correspond to minimum wage must be fully allocated and maternity/paternity leave payments must not be lower than minimum wage. The child’s right to secure day-care provided by the authorities immediately after the parental leave period must also be implemented.

It is highly important that wage earners are able to respond to the various circumstances that can occur in their personal life and that they are entitled to absences from work due to their children’s serious long-term illness without wage reduction. The same applies to increased rights to absences due to illness of a child, taking into account the number of children, or illness of a parent, a spouse or other close relatives or due to family circumstances. Such integration results in increased job satisfaction, improved performance, increased capacity and lower employee turnover.

Gender-based and sexual harassment and violence in the workplace

Gender-based harassment, sexual harassment and violence must be eliminated; the root of this scourge is inequality and gender power imbalance. The experience has shown that equal status and equal opportunities of all people at workplaces does not happen by itself. Knowledge, will and actions are needed in order to achieve changes in this field. In accordance with legislation on equality and work protection, employers bear great responsibility for taking special measures to protect their employees or clients from sexual or gender-based harassment or any form of abuse in the workplace.

Harassment and violence take many forms including verbal, physical or emotional abuse. However, according to the rules that apply to harassment in the workplace, it is not important to determine the manifestation. All gender-based and sexual harassment and any form of abuse is prohibited. People’s experience can vary, and so can workplace culture. The law is clear however: the victim’s perception determines whether harassment or violence has taken place. It is not up to others to assess how the victim experiences communications or certain behaviours; it is always up to victims themselves. Culture that categorises behaviour by using outdated ideas on where the distinction lies between harassment and discomfort must be eradicated. All forms of unwanted harassment are unacceptable and must be taken seriously.

Education on mutual respect must be carried out from an early age, and access to harmful material containing violence, such as pornography, must be removed. The authorities must ensure access to constructive material that prevents sexual violence.

Employers and the authorities must ensure support for victims, perpetrators and colleagues following violence.

Good management and systematic integration of equal rights views, with special focus on eradicating power discrepancy in any form of decision making, is the key to ensuring that harassment and violence do not occur. We must all take part so that real changes in attitudes and culture can take place.

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