FAIR PAY IN SWITZERLAND
It’s no wonder that in summer 2019, the otherwise famously reserved women of Switzerland called the biggest women’s strike in history: in 2018, prosperous Switzerland only managed to reach 20th place in the Global Gender Gap Index. To say nothing of equal pay. But all that’s set to change.
From now on, things are set to move faster in relation to equality, and laws are to get stricter. The country where women have only had the right to vote since 1971 has some catching up to do in matters of equality. Only since 1981 has equal treatment of men and women been included in the Swiss constitution, and it took until 1990 for women’s right to vote to be introduced in the last canton, Appenzell. Whilst it’s true the so-called Equality Act has been in existence since 1996, in reality, women are still disadvantaged.
In 2017, the film “The Divine Order” [“Die göttliche Ordnung”], an impressive portrayal of Swiss women’s long struggle for the right to vote, once again triggered a major debate about the state of equality in Switzerland. And rightly so: a year later, in 2018, prosperous Switzerland only managed to reach 20th place in the Global Gender Gap Index. In most cases, a high level of economic strength is a clear indicator of a high level of equality. At 68,943 US dollars per capita, Switzerland has the world’s highest GDP, but in terms of the Gender Gap Index, it falls way behind in Europe. A sorry state of affairs.
So it’s no wonder that last year, the otherwise famously reserved women of Switzerland had had enough: on 14 June 2019 they called the biggest women’s strike in history. This was despite the fact that in Switzerland – unlike in Italy, France, or Germany – strikes are relatively rare. But the rage about unequal treatment and the 18% pay gap was provocation enough.
Swiss women on strike
In calling the strike, women were building on another big strike. They had already protested loudly across the country on June 14, 1991, no longer able to tolerate the fact that men earned almost twice as much for the same work.
Twenty-eight years later, women are taking to the streets for exactly the same reasons: almost three decades on, women are still earning less than their male colleagues, they’re working in part-time jobs, receive smaller pensions, and do most of the unpaid work in the household and for the family.
This is despite the fact that since 2016, Switzerland has had a Charter for Equal Pay in the public sector, and all cantons and municipalities can sign up to it. It is among the Swiss authorities that pay equality is consistently demanded and implemented. Acting as a role model for public and private employers is taken very seriously. Twenty-three out of 26 cantons have signed the Charter. The monitoring results from the years 2016 to 2018 from the public sector were published in 2019. At 16.7 percent, the pay gap in the public sector is markedly lower than in the private sector, where it hovers at 19.6 percent.
More bite, less teeth
Little has happened in the private economy. From 2009 to 2013, companies had been offered a wage equality dialogue. But the wage analyses that were supposed to happen on a voluntary basis remained the exception – only 20 companies accepted the invitation.
From the summer of 2020, reporting requirements will be stricter in Switzerland: the Equality Act is intended to ensure better implementation of equal pay. With effect from 1 July 2020, businesses with 100 or more employees will be given a deadline for checking their pay structures. By the summer of 2021 at the latest, they must carry out a pay analysis, and repeat the analysis every four years after that. Logib, the Swiss standard tool for analysis, allows companies with at least 50 employees to run the analysis easily. The results will be checked by an independent body, and in the private sector, they will be made available to employees and shareholders. The results for companies under public law will be published publicly. Following heated debates in the Swiss parliament, women’s rights organizations have expressed disappointment that the law does not contemplate any sanctions.
Good for people, good for business
Tobacco giant Philip Morris International is one example of how things can be done differently. The global group, which is headquartered in New York and has 82,000 employees internationally, launched a pay equality initiative in Switzerland, and without any legal compulsion, it has, within a few years, checked and adjusted its pay structures. To start with, the group achieved certification for Equal Salary in Switzerland, then did the same globally at all its locations, for actually paying staff the same rate for the same and equivalent work. The company was recently awarded Global Equal Salary certification. This is valid until 2022 when a review audit will be carried out.
Other standards are being set in Switzerland. Since as far back as 2010, under its CEO Simona Scarpaleggia the IKEA group has been working on closing the gender pay gap among its 3,000 or so employees in Switzerland. In 2015, it was the first company in the world to achieve the highest level of certification from the independent body, EDGE. The latter certifies companies and groups which are active internationally and employ over 200 people. Besides equal pay, working hours culture, management, appointments, and promotions are assessed and monitored in respect of gender equality across the company. To date, IKEA Switzerland is the only company in the world to hold this highest level of certification. The equality measures are having a positive effect on the people in the company, but also on its economic success. As Scarpaleggia says: “What better motivation could there be than the knowledge that what is good for women, men, families, and communities is also good for business and endeavors of all kind[s]!”
With or without sanctions, the trend seems unstoppable: Google Switzerland wants to ensure pay transparency from now on, to include salary details in job searches, in cooperation with job portals, and if necessary, based on estimates.
FPI - What we do
Why does the gender pay gap prove so intractable? What is standing in the way of fair pay for all? What do companies need to do in order to put sustainable pay strategies into practice?
Knowing about the pay gap and being willing to rid the world of the unjust state of affairs are evidently not enough to actually ensure fair pay. It is right here ...