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Equal Pay and Dilemmas of Justice

Equal pay for work of equal value is a fundamental principle in European Union (EU) law and so in the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement. The paper takes as its point of departure the debate in Norway on the interpretation of EEA equal pay legislation, and relates this debate to the broader equal pay controversy in Norway.

ARENA Working Paper 3/2011

Cathrine Holst

Equal pay for work of equal value is a fundamental principle in European Union (EU) law and so in the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement. The paper takes as its point of departure the debate in Norway on the interpretation of EEA equal pay legislation, and relates this debate to the broader equal pay controversy in Norway. Among arguments on both sides in these debates have been arguments about what is right and just: Whereas proponents for strong equal pay commitments typically stress that social justice requires work of equal value to be paid as equally as possible, if necessary by means of state intervention and law enforcement (the law enforcement position), proponents for weaker equal pay commitments stress typically either (1) the relative justice of markets; pay ought primarily to be distributed through markets and according to market value and not according to some market-external equality standard (the free market position), or (2) that wages should be set as far as possible by strong democratic unions that negotiate with employers and employers’ organizations (the collective bargaining position). The paper focuses on the confrontations between law enforcement and collective bargaining and interprets these confrontations as reflecting ‘dilemmas of justice’ (Nancy Fraser): in part a redistribution versus recognition dilemma, in part a justice-from-above versus justice-from-below dilemma. Finally, the paper investigates to what extent these dilemmas are genuine. Are there ways to narrow down the gap between the law enforcement camp and the collective bargaining camp?

ARENA Working Paper 3/2011 (pdf)