Fewer pay gaps – but still more discrimination

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Gender pay gap

Fewer wage differences – but still more discrimination?

The wage gap between men and women in Switzerland has narrowed. However, the trade unions contradict this good news from the federal government. You read an increase in discrimination from the same numbers. Criticism also comes from employers.

Unions have long been demanding tougher laws against wage discrimination. (archive image)

key stone

Anyone who brings home more than 16,000 francs a month is usually a man. Anyone who earns less than 4,000 francs full-time is female in the majority of cases. This distribution has changed little in 2020, as shown by the latest figures on wage inequality in Switzerland published by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) on Tuesday.

Overall, however, the so-called unadjusted gender pay gap has decreased somewhat, by one percentage point, according to the figures from the FSO 2020. In concrete terms: the wage gap fell in the most recent survey period from 19 percent in 2018 to 18 percent.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, a large part of these differences can be explained by “structural factors”. According to the BFS, this includes the number of years of service or the exercise of a managerial function. The gender difference is particularly pronounced at the upper end of the scale: there, at 78.5 percent, men make up an overwhelming majority. In 2018, this value was even more than 80 percent. The gap between the sexes is less wide among low-income earners: men account for around 40 percent.

Discrimination never as blatant as in 2020?

According to the BFS study, 47.8 percent of the wage differences remain “unexplained”, which may indicate discrimination based on gender. Amazing: Since 2018, the proportion of unexplained differences has even increased, from 45 to around 48 percent. And even more amazing: This increase was the strongest in the federal government, cantons and municipalities. While 35 percent of the wage differences were still unexplained here in 2016, by 2020 it will be 45 percent.

For Travailsuisse, it is meanwhile clear: “Wage discrimination against women has increased again.” Wage discrimination has “never been so high,” writes the umbrella organization of trade unions in a statement from the official. And: “In small SMEs, wage discrimination has even become the norm.”

According to the BFS, the unexplained share of the wage difference in companies with fewer than 20 employees has meanwhile fallen slightly from around 58 percent in 2018 to almost 57 percent in 2020, while in large companies with at least 1000 employees it has increased from around 32 percent in the same period up a good 37 percent.

Employers object to the federal government

The interpretation of the unions did not go unchallenged for long on Wednesday. In its own press release, the employers’ association put forward a different interpretation of the BFS statistics. It doubts that the value declared by the FSO as “undeclared” actually corresponds to actual discrimination.

It is striking, for example, that the unexplained share has increased by 9.5 percentage points in the public sector, while the increase in the private sector is only one percent.

“This astonishingly large increase in the public sector is quite remarkable and casts doubt on the conclusions on the unexplained wage gap,” the employers said. The comparison of the BFS ignores relevant characteristics such as actual professional experience. The employers also point out that the FSO itself, in contrast to the trade unions, expressly does not interpret the unexplained wage difference as a quantitative measure of wage discrimination.

Stricter laws and Internet pillory should remedy the situation

Irrespective of this, the Swiss Trade Union Confederation (SGB) sees a need for political action in its reaction: “Apparently, the revised Equal Opportunities Act could not achieve the desired effect, consistent implementation is therefore imperative,” he writes.

Travailsuisse also sees it this way: “In the medium term, Parliament must resume work and definitely establish the obligation to review equal pay for all companies with 50 or more employees and provide for appropriate sanctions in the event of non-compliance,” Valérie Borioli Sandoz is quoted as saying in the statement. The revised Gender Equality Act, which has been in force for a good two years, stipulates that wage inequality must only be checked for companies with more than 100 employees.

In addition, the SGB demands that “clear progress must be made” in reconciling paid and unpaid commitment. Because as long as caring for children and relatives is perceived as a private matter, women remain over-represented with low incomes and under-represented with high wages.

Meanwhile, Travailsuisse is asking employees to report their companies if they fail to carry out such a check. The offending companies are then pilloried on a black list on the Internet. The employers’ association, on the other hand, refers to an evaluation by the University of St. Gallen, according to which 97 percent of the companies examined complied with the Equal Opportunities Act.

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