Published February 8, 2015
The town of Kópavogur, which borders Reykjavík, lost a salary discrimination case at the end of January. The Welfare Ministry’s Complaints Committee for Gender Equality judged it to have unlawfully paid one of its female employees 7% less than her male colleague. In a decision of absurd pettiness, the municipal government decided to lower the male employee’s salary instead of raising the female’s.
That’s one way to eradicate the town’s gender wage gap. Another would be to pay women more.
And a third would be to build a rocket and launch Kópavogur into the sun, but apparently neither is likely to happen. The town employee who made the complaint, Jófríður Hanna Sigfúsdóttir, expressed her disappointment that the town “fulfilled the Complaints Committee’s decision by reducing the man’s pay rather than increasing the woman’s” and further said that she went home crying the day she heard what they were going to do. What makes the town’s reaction even more frustrating is that the ruling specifically rejected the idea of reducing the male employee’s wages.
Petty chickenshittery, thy name is Kópavogur town government.
At least they paid her compensation, though no one should get credit for doing what is required by law. The mayor of Kópavogur, former Independence Party MP Ármann Kr. Ólafsson, did manage to place the small-minded decision in an even worse light when he responded to newspaper Morgunblaðið’s enquries about whether the town would reduce other employees’ pay, by saying: “Everything’s possible. We have to go over this and that process can possibly lead to us lowering someone’s salary, but I certainly hope that will not happen.”
The mayor hopes it won’t happen? If only someone had the authority to make sure it doesn’t.
The extra sad thing about his response is that he has often spoken of the necessity to eliminate wage disparity between men and women. In a 2007 speech at Alþingi, he said that the eradication of the gender pay gap was a priority. As recently as last summer, he responded to a study which showed that Kópavogur was Iceland’s leading municipality in terms of equal pay by saying: “Compared to others, we are doing very well, but more is needed.”
What happened to you, mayor? You used to be someone I could trust.
I did not expect a Predator quote, though I suppose the patriarchy is a bit like a monster hunting humans in… sorry, that analogy was such a stretch I just sprained my mind. It is pretty annoying that this happens in a nation that prides itself on consistently topping lists that rank countries by gender equality. Though it is a reminder that Iceland is still far from the ideal.
But Iceland gave the world the first female elected head of state! First lesbian prime minister! And Björk! Who should be empress of everything!
Björk has been having her own issues with the patriarchy for, oh, just about her entire career. In an interview with music website Pitchfork, she discussed how the media has rarely given her full credit for her work. Instead credit has gone to her male collaborators, even if they only contributed in a minimal way.
That makes sense, since the only way to make music is to clang your testicles together.
Björk said she decided to speak because she wanted to “support young girls who are in their 20s now and tell them: You’re not just imagining things. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times.” Support and encouragement is important, which is yet another reason to dislike the municipal government of Kópavogur’s decision.
But the mayor said once that eradicating the pay gap was a priority. That should count five times.
Jófríður Hanna Sigfúsdóttir pointed out in an interview with state broadcaster RÚV that her case could discourage other employees from seeking just work compensation. Agreeing with her is union leader Elín Björg Jónsdóttir, head of the Federation of State and Municipal Employees, who says that “it is unbelievable that women or people in general who seek fairness are being punished.”
But surely things are okay in Iceland, the country that tops gender equality rankings?
Things are okay compared to a lot of other places, but the gender pay gap is still 7% to 20%, depending on which methodology is used. As the ideal percentage would be zero, that is not good enough. Politicians who speak of the necessity of eliminating wage disparity between men and women, like the current mayor of Kópavogur, should follow through. When President Kennedy promised that his country would put a man on the Moon, American politicians did not settle for flying a kite.
The town of Kópavogur lowered a man’s income after an equality complaint committee ruled that he couldn’t receive higher pay than a woman…