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Gender pay gap

Viimati uuendatud: 08.09.2020

Gender equality means that men and women have equal rights and opportunities, as well as equal obligations and responsibilities. It is a basic human right that is essential for maintaining democracy. Although the Constitution, the Gender Equality Act, and the Equal Treatment Act state the principle of equal treatment in Estonia, the reality is that unequal treatment based on gender is present on all levels of society, starting from the organisation of housework between men and women and ending with unequal treatment on the labour market. Unequal treatment often starts from attitudes and gender stereotypes that haunt men and women in every area of activity and influence the possibilities for self-realisation directly or indirectly. At the same time, equal opportunities for achieving full potential, developing one’s talents, and making choices are important for each individual person and for achieving overall economic growth and societal coherence. The increasing involvement of women on the labour market ensures their economic independence and significantly contributes to economic development and the sustainability of social welfare systems.

Gender inequality means an overall unfairness in the distribution of resources among men and women. One of these resources is income. An income might mean remuneration, pension, unemployment insurance benefit, or parental benefit. Remuneration is often intertwined with a person’s other forms of income – for example, in the funded pension system, pension payments depend on the pay that a person has earned for their labour, and it also affects parental benefit and unemployment insurance benefit. Unequal wages (at a disadvantage for women) might cause poverty among women which, in turn, affects their children and the independence and self-reliant maintenance of women. Thus, remuneration does not only affect the welfare for men and women in the present, but also for the rest of their lives.[1]

The gender pay gap is a subject that directly or indirectly affects each Estonian person, their opportunities, health, family subsistence, and Estonia’s reputation in the world. The gender pay gap indicator has triggered a number of public discussions on the subject of equal treatment for men and women as well as on the balance between genders.

With the support of the Norwegian Financial Mechanism, and in cooperation between Statistics Estonia and the Minister of Social Affairs, a publicly accessible database on the gender pay gap was compiled and possibilities for developing the wage gap statistics were thoroughly analysed. Updated data is available on the website of Statistics Estonia.

More on the valid regulations and obligations of the employer for ensuring equal treatment and decreasing the pay gap

Men and women must be ensured equal remuneration for equal work. This obligation is laid down in the Gender Equality Act, stating that the activities of an employer are discriminatory if the employer establishes conditions for remuneration or conditions for the provision and receipt of benefits related to the employment relationship which are less favourable regarding an employee or employees of one sex compared with an employee or employees of the other sex doing the same work or work of equal value (clause 6 (2) 3) of the Gender Equality Act).

Thus, a remuneration agreement between an employee and an employer must be in accordance with relevant occupational duties and not depend on the gender of the employee.

Occupational assignments are classified and assessed based on different methods. For example, analytical assessment of occupations involves comparisons of occupations based on previously selected objective factors such as a required classification or previous experience, or mental and physical efforts that are required for the performance of duties, but also the liabilities and working conditions.[2]

If an employee suspects that they are not getting equal pay for work of equal value, they have the right to claim explanations from the employer about the basis for calculating the remuneration and receive other relevant information for determining potential discrimination.

Disputes concerning discrimination involve a shared burden of proof. An applicant must describe the facts that give grounds to presume a case of discrimination based on gender. The other party must prove that they have not breached the principle of equal treatment. If they refuse to prove anything, their refusal is deemed as equal to acknowledgement of discrimination.

If the rights of an employee have been violated due to discrimination, they have a right to demand that the harmful activity be terminated, i.e. that equal remuneration be guaranteed, and non-patrimonial damage be compensated for. The employee cannot demand the conclusion of an employment contract, a contract for providing services, or appointment to office.

The claim for compensation for damage pursuant to Section 13 of the Gender Equality Act expires in one year after the date when the injured party became aware or should have become aware of the damage caused. Upon determination of the amount of compensation, a labour dispute committee takes into account, inter alia, the scope, duration, and nature of discrimination.

Disputes on discrimination based on gender are resolved in a labour dispute organisation, or a court or a labour dispute committee. According to the Chancellor of Justice Act, discrimination disputes shall be resolved by the Chancellor of Justice by way of conciliation procedure. Conciliation procedures can also be resolved in the labour dispute committee.


1. Why is occupational segregation expanding in Estonia?

The gender gap in educational choices plays a major role in the development of occupational gender segregation. Although, according to statistics, there are more university-educated young women than there are university-educated young men in most of the Member States of the EU, women tend to choose the specialties that have lesser conditions and career opportunities. Gender-based educational choices lead to gender segregation in the labour market, meaning that women and men work in different sectors and positions.

There are certainly many other reasons. The counselling data of the Labour Inspectorate has revealed that the issue lies in the perception of people, but also in the fact that when a field of expertise already contains mostly people of one gender, it is always more complicated for a person of the opposite gender to enter the same field. It often requires a thoroughly knowledgeable approach and support for a new colleague from company representatives.

People often base their choices on the remuneration paid in a certain economic sector. Other factors include societal expectations for men or women, or stereotypical perceptions that tend to shift quite slowly.


2. What is the reason for that?

The main reasons are the perceptions and prejudices in our society that begin in preschool or school and continue in professional lives.

Not every transport company or vehicle repair service hires a female truck driver or a mechanic, and there are actually not many to choose from, looking at the proportions of young men and women on relevant curricula in vocational or higher education schools.

For example, male teachers are always welcome, but most people who study to become teachers are still female. Similar examples can be brought from other professional fields.

According to the information acquired from the legal counselling service of the Labour Inspectorate and based on the cases discussed in the labour dispute committee, there is also a somewhat negative attitude towards people who have chosen a so-called untraditional specialty. Even if an employer does everything in their power to support a single man in a female profession, or a single woman among men, the support from colleagues may not be sufficient or a so-called gender-based competition might arise, meaning that a person acquires all the knowledge and expertise, but they keep getting called out as inadequate because of being of the so-called wrong gender. This is an obvious case of discrimination.


3. Is the expansion of occupational segregation in Estonia positive or negative?

Extensive segregation is never positive. As male-dominated sectors (e.g. real estate, construction, information technology) tend to have higher wages than female-dominated sectors (e.g. education, healthcare, social services), gender segregation also has a huge impact on the gender pay gap and is affecting future pensions. Addressing gender segregation will create more balance in education as well as professional lives. This, in turn, has broader impact on gender structures and hierarchies, e.g. affecting gender equality in the larger society.

One must also consider that gender diversity in different fields and areas of expertise guarantees a more well-rounded development of these fields.


Additional materials

From the website of the Ministry of Social Affairs:

[1] The study ‘Gender pay gap’ commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs

[2] Read more: A guide for good employers


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