Government hopes to cut gender gap

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Feb 01, 2001

The Estonian government passed a bill on Jan. 23 that aims to equalize wages paid to men and women for similar work. Another act, which addresses the equal treatment of both sexes, will come into force in 2002.

Until now, Estonian legislation has lacked clauses that would force employers to pay men and women equal salaries for the same kinds of job.

The only act prohibiting gender discrimination in Estonia is the 12th paragraph of the constitution, while in most European Union member countries equality has been regulated with a separate law since the 1970s.

The government-sponsored bill was sent to Parliament for approval and may come into force this year, said Malle Kindel, head of the labor relations department at the Ministry of Social Affairs. According to the new bill, companies should make their collective agreements public. Kindel said that employers have to know on what basis premiums are being paid.

She said that according to a recent survey of Estonian companies, the wage differential between men and women in new sectors such as banking, insurance or real estate was almost 45 percent.

She said that they had not analyzed the results of the survey and the difference may also be caused by shorter shifts. In the public sector, both genders are paid equally because the law regulates wages there.

The average hourly wage difference between sexes in Western Europe is 30 percent.

Kindel said that women are satisfied with lower positions and don’t know their rights, while men strive toward managerial posts and ask for higher salaries. Men value their knowledge higher, while women are more modest, she said.

According to statistics, female managers in Estonia earn a quarter less than men for similar work. In general, Kindel believes that it’s possible for a woman to make a career in Estonia if she has a great desire for one.
Be more macho

Ulle Papp, head of the equality bureau of the department of European Integration at the Ministry of Social Affairs has the reverse opinion. She says that women have to become masculine in order to make a career and they face obstacles on their way to the top.

“The gender equality act that we are working on allows women to be different but equal at the same time,” said Papp. “Women have been told for 50 years that they’re equal with men, while in practice it’s just the opposite. There are barriers in attitudes and stereotypes.”

The labor market is divided between masculine and feminine jobs. The masculine jobs are usually highly valued, while women have to do most of the domestic work.

She added that changes in the wage and gender equality acts are not enough to halt gender discrimination in Estonia, and that equality acts are most effectively applied in fully developed countries like Austria, Ireland and Scandinavia.

“It seems that even Spain and Portugal are outpacing Estonia in this matter,” she said.

An interesting test case for Central and Eastern Europe has been Lithuania, the only country in the region with an equality act in force. According to Papp, Lithuania has already had 90 discrimination cases within the year-and-a-half the act has been in force.
Discrimination? Not here!

According to Reet Haal, director of the Union of Leasing Companies, sexual discrimination does not exist on the Estonian labor market.

“It’s easy for women to blame men if they don’t succeed,” said Haal.

She said that if a male employer feels uncomfortable with a female boss and does not want to obey, he has to be dismissed.

“Some positions suit a particular sex better. If we look at councils or boards, there are mostly men. A woman usually holds the position of a deputy manager or finance manager, because she does not want to take too much responsibility or risks,” she said.

“Estonian women also lack self-confidence, because they have not been taught to be confident.”

Aune Past, head of the PR company Past and Partners, said that the task of a manager is to offer communication services. It doesn’t matter what the information provider looks like.

“Nowadays, managers have to have new values. This gives women an advantige. The importance of words and emotions is increasing,” said Past.

“We have a woman heading Statoil in Estonia. International practice is to employ the best specialist on the market regardless of sex.”

Raul Kalev, a spokesman for Eesti Telekom, is also of the opinion that there is no discrimination in Estonia.

“Women started fighting for their rights in the U.S.A., because they spent so much time at home. Now it is financially possible to assert their rights,” said Kalev. “Our women have been working for 50 years and they don’t know what discrimination is.”

He believes that managers of both sexes are paid equally.

“Sometimes men are paid more, because they are expected to devote more time to work. For women home is usually the number one thing and work is just a means of living,” he said.

“If a man looked at a woman differently at a business meeting in the U.S.A., which I believe sometimes happens in Estonia, a female manager would sue him at once,” Kalev said.