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Ombudsman urges pay transparency to fight gender pay gap

Finland's Ombudsman for Equality says making workers salary levels known to each other would help people to be paid more equitably.

nainen ja mies kättelee
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Yle News

Would you be interested to know how much your co-workers earn? Would you disclose your salary to co-workers?

Many people would likely say 'yes' to the first question - but a resounding 'no' to the second. In a report published Tuesday however, Finland's Ombudsman for Gender Equality Jukka Maarianvaara has called for making workers' salaries transparent.

He said that allowing people to know how much colleagues earn would particularly benefit the salaries of women.

According to the report Maarianvaara's office released on Tuesday, women still earn on average some 16 percent less than their male counterparts.

The report said the main obstacle women and other lower-paid workers face is a lack of information about salaries, saying that wage transparency would help prevent discrimination.

Workers in Finland appear to already know more about their colleague's salaries than workers in other European countries. According to a Eurobarometer survey published last year, some 80 percent of Finnish workers said they knew what their close co-workers make.

Every year around tax season, the incomes of Finland's top earners are made public by Vero, the Finnish Tax Administration; an annual practice that has become a guilty pleasure of readers and the media industry alike.

But on the other hand, according to the Eurobarometer survey, Finnish workers appear to be more critical towards the idea of making everyone's salaries visible. Some 80 percent of those polled in Sweden were positive about the idea of making salary amounts transparent but only 58 percent of respondents from Finland agreed with the idea.

Not a new concept

The concept of salary and wage transparency isn't new and a few corporations have let their workers know how much everyone is earning. A small handful of Finnish companies have also adopted salary transparency policies, but that is not yet common practice.

In Finland, data on the salaries of public sector workers is public information, but according to the report it is unnecessarily difficult to compare salaries in the private sector.

According to a 2017 article in Business Insider, a few years after the US-based grocery chain Whole Foods first started in 1986, the company decided to make compensation figures available for all of its workers to see. The publication reported that tech companies were increasingly letting their workers know how much everyone is earning.

According to the equality ombudsman's report, Finland needs to have an open discussion about wages and their differences in order to make progress in levelling-out salaries equitably.

By law, people in Finland are entitled to equal pay for equal work and the right not to be discriminated against. The report said that adopting a policy of salary transparency would be key to fulfil those basic rights, saying it's difficult for workers to make claims about pay discrepancies when salaries are secret.

Maarianvaara said that employees cannot effectively change their pay scale - or even have the ability to realise they're being discriminated against - if they don't know that they're on a level playing field.

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