Nordic Region inspires ILO to pursue equal pay and lifelong learning

03.04.19 | News
Guy Ryder på arbetslivsministermöte
Birgir Ísleifur Gunnarsson
“The best thing about the Nordic labour model is that it works!” These were the words of Guy Ryder, Director General of the ILO, when he met the Nordic ministers for labour in Reykjavik on Wednesday. Although the Nordic countries have some work ahead of them if they are to maintain a high level of education, social justice, and financial security in tomorrow’s labour market, they have begun to take important steps for lifelong learning.

On 3 April, the Nordic ministers for labour met Guy Ryder to discuss how to make tomorrow’s labour market sustainable by way of policies and party co-operation. Representatives from relevant labour market parties also attended the meeting.

The basis for the meeting is the report “Work for a brighter future” that was recently presented by the ILO – the International Labour Organization – which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. It contains ten measures for preserving or strengthening people’s rights to economic security, social justice, and gender equality in the future labour market, which is challenged by rapid technological development, an ageing population, and global divisions.

The Nordic model is a problem-solver

The ILO cites the Nordic Region as an example for the rest of the world.  

“The Nordic labour model is a problem-solver and adapts to new circumstances, while retaining its fundamental co-operation between the social partners,” says Ryder.

The discussion centred around how to make sure that people have the right education for tomorrow’s jobs, and that career paths are as open to women as they are to men.

From words to action

“We’ve been talking about lifelong learning for a long while. Now’s the time to move on. In Sweden, we’re planning a new opportunity for employees whereby they can train for a year and receive remuneration in line with unemployment benefits.  Meanwhile, their employer must hire someone else,” says Ylva Johansson, Swedish Minister for Employment.

Norway’s Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Anniken Hauglie explained how tangible the need for education is in the Norwegian labour market.  

“After many years of companies and jobs moving out of Norway, they’re now starting to return. But these companies require a highly educated workforce and it’s almost impossible to get a job if you don’t have the right training. In Norway, we’ve recently allocated funds in the state budget and concluded an agreement between labour market partners for investment in further education in many industries,” said Hauglie.

Danish tripartite agreement on further education

Head of department Troels Blicher Danielsen, who replaced the Danish Minister of Employment, testified that although jobs are not disappearing in Denmark, 40 per cent of total working hours could be automated by 2025 using current technology.

“There’s only one answer to this trend, and that’s education. We’ve concluded a tripartite agreement for further education totalling DKK 2.5 billion. This allows more people to improve their qualifications and enables us to prevent bottlenecks in the labour market.”

Invest in gender equality!

One of the ten necessary measures cited in the ILO report is the need for countries to introduce reforms that ensure true gender equality in the labour market, such as investments in parental leave and in childcare and care for the elderly.

Among the Nordic countries, Iceland has taken the lead in terms of policies for equal pay and policies to encourage fathers to take more parental leave.

“Here in Iceland, when we introduced a regulation for parental leave that gave fathers and mothers three months each, it was somewhat revolutionary, as this ensured the father’s entitlement to parental leave. This legislation has had a major impact on society and is one of the reasons why we have the highest proportion of women in the labour market in the OECD,” said Ásmundur Einar Dadason, Iceland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Equality.

Wage statistics according to gender

Guy Ryder explained that Iceland’s equal pay act has already inspired other countries like the United Kingdom, which now requires companies to report wage statistics according to gender.

“These questions are really central to our discussions on the future of the labour market. What we’ve been trying to do for decades in order to promote equal pay and gender equality is just not enough. We need to be innovative and creative. Parental leave – an area where the Nordic countries are really leading the way – will be very important in the future,” said Ryder.

New project on women in STEM

During their meeting, the Nordic ministers for labour also decided to launch a new project on gender equality in tomorrow’s high-tech labour market. The project will examine how the Nordic countries can improve the gender balance in technology and engineering education programmes.

Combining strengths in Reykjavik

The ministerial meeting is being followed by a two-day conference in Reykjavik that brings together experts, researchers, trade unionists, entrepreneurs, and politicians. The first day of the conference on 4 April will primarily look at the challenges for the Nordic labour model. The second day of the conference on 5 April will look at gender equality and equal pay policies.