International mechanisms to revalue women's work: research

The report reviews different approaches to redress the undervaluation of women’s work and assesses their applicability to the Scottish employment context. The report finds that undervaluation of women’s work is a driver of the gender pay gap and makes recommendations to alleviate this disparity.

Appendix 1 – Case Study 9 – Sweden: Negotiating Additional Increases for Health and Care Workers

In Sweden the GPG was 11.8% in 2019[117] and collective bargaining coverage 88% in 2018[118]. In Sweden the public services trade union, Kommunal, has addressed the GPG by linking occupational wage levels to educational attainment. In 2016 it gained the support of the Swedish metal workers’ union, Metall, for a three-year collective agreement with additional pay increases for assistant nurses. Under the 2020–23 agreement, Kommunal broadened its focus and moved away from a link to a specific occupational title. It reached a four-year collective agreement including a one-off lump sum payment to 500,000 workers covered by its collective bargaining agreement, mostly health and social care and kindergarten workers, of SEK 5,500 (around £460), plus 0.9% pay increase on top of the 5.4% industry norm.


Historical occupational segregation remains the biggest barrier in Sweden with ‘blue collar’ occupations represented by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation – Landsorganisationen i Sverige (LO) – with 14 member unions covering workers on the basis of industry. The 1997 Industrial Agreement stressed the principle that the negotiated industry norm should determine wage increases and they should not be higher. Public services union, Kommunal, made several unsuccessful attempts to unite the LO unions around a GPG strategy that would agree higher wage increases for occupations with high concentrations of women. Around 2013 Kommunal started developing a different strategy, which involved removing the emphasis on gender and instead focusing upon education. Given that in Sweden, entry into occupations is based on educational qualification, the strategy appeared to make sense in addressing the occupational segregation that underpins the GPG. Eventually Kommunal got support from the metal workers’ union Metall, the biggest union within the LO confederation, and was asked to focus on one group of workers. Assistant nurses and care assistants comprise 78% women and are a distinct occupation in Sweden requiring a formal education of three years in upper secondary school. Kommunal calculated that on an average yearly basis, assistant nurses earn SEK 40,000 (around £3,300) less than car mechanics, yet these two occupations require the same educational level.

In 2016 a one-year Industrial Bargaining Agreement with an increase of 2.2% for all blue-collar workers was agreed. There was an understanding that Kommunal would then demand an additional increase for assistant nurses, and that if the strategy was not successful during that year, Metall would join Kommunal in strike action, giving the assistant nurses huge leverage. A three-year deal was signed early in 2016 for an additional wage increase for assistant nurses: SEK 500 (around £420) in 2016 (in addition to SEK 520 increase for all), SEK 180 (£15) in 2017 (in addition to an overall SEK 530 increase), and SEK 150 (£13) in 2018 (in addition to an overall SEK 535 increase).


The 2016 deal obtained by Kommunal for the assistant nurses was initially deemed a success. However, in 2017 and 2018, a buoyant Swedish economy caused a labour shortage that pushed private sector blue collar wages beyond the negotiated minimum. Public sector wages, however, only increased according to the negotiated deal, reducing its impact for assistant nurses. Nevertheless, the gap would have been bigger without the negotiated additional increase. Under the subsequent 2020–23 agreement, Kommunal broadened its focus and moved away from a link to a specific occupational title as employers had recategorised some workers. In 2020 the union reached a new, four-year collective agreement with Sweden's regions and municipalities including a one-off lump sum payment to 500,000 workers in health and social care and kindergartens of SEK 5,500 (around £460) covering May to October, plus a 0.9% pay rise – the union estimated that this would result in a 1.8% increase for these workers, in addition to the 5.4% norm over 29 months. Private sector (outsourced) health and social care workers received 0.5% over three years. The extra increase was partly as a result of Covid-19, but Kommunal reported that it was getting more difficult to sustain the support of other LO unions and that employers were signalling that the industry norm has to be interpreted as a ceiling rather than a floor, in particular with regard to groups such as cleaners[119].


The lifting of rates for groups in public services with predominantly women workers could be negotiated through sectoral collective bargaining under the influence of the SG. Such a strategy, would, however, have to be agreed by Scottish trade unions and funded by the Government.



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