Iceland’s Samkaup co-operative rolls out employee welfare service

All employees can benefit from the new Welfare and Care Service

Retail co-op Samkaup took employee welfare to the next level in September 2020 when it launched a new wellbeing service for its colleagues.

One of the largest retailers in the country, Samkaup has a 25% market share and employs 1,400 people, all of whom can benefit from its new Welfare and Care Service.

Through the service, employees and their close relatives can seek help from a wide range of professionals free of charge and without the intervention of the company’s management team.

The service was launched to help employees cope with unexpected difficulties, particularly in the context of Covid-19. It also aims to increase staff satisfaction and resilience. All employees have the opportunity to take full advantage of the service regardless of whether they are full-time or part-time staff.

“We know that life is not one straight path, we face all kinds of setbacks and difficulties. We as big business executives need to think about this and when we see an opportunity to meet our people, we take that responsibility and follow through with actions as we have done at Samkaup. Our people are what motivate us to move forward,” says managing director of human resources, Gunnur Líf Gunnarsdóttir.

Colleagues are already using the service to access counselling around lifestyle, family relations or how to cope with stress. They can also receive support to deal with addictions or health issues and access financial and legal advice.

The retailer has a contract with a healthcare centre which employees can access when they need it – appointments are made by Samkaup’s contact within the centre, who analyses the case and secures the right specialist. The centre can also arrange appointments with psychologists, nutritionists, lawyers, psychiatrists, financial advisors, or family/marriage consultants.

A Samkaup employee who was a foreign national, and had been denied a residence permit, was able to access legal advice through the welfare service, which also provides interpreters if needed.

Another employee who has been waiting for almost a year for a medical appointment with a specialist was able to secure an appointment within a week of accessing Samkaup’s welfare service.

“Through the welfare system our people can get access specialist appointments directly and much quicker,” said Sandra Björk Bjarkadóttir, HR agent at Samkaup.

Employees can have up to six appointments with a specialist and send the invoices to Samkaup who pays them on their behalf, without asking any questions.

The retailer also runs a health care refund programme, which employees can use to get refunds on any sport they are practicing, on their subscription to the gym or for physiotherapy.

“There has been a heavy load on Samkaup’s staff in recent months, especially in the current Covid-19 situation, and it is more important that we take good care of them. Our colleagues have worked wonders and I cannot praise them enough. It has shown incredible perseverance and fighting spirit,” added Ms Gunnarsdóttir.

Equal pay

Samkaup is also an equal pay certified employer, having received its certification in January 2019, a year before it became mandatory. The retailer has Equality and Equal Pay Policy in place, which forms part of its Human Resources Policy and covers all employees regardless of gender, age, race, religion and sexual orientation. The policy focuses on paying women and men equal wages and the same terms for the same or equally valuable jobs, providing equal opportunities including around vocational training and education, fighting any forms of sexual harassment, bullying or violence and making the co-op a family-friendly workplace.

After receiving the Equal Pay standard certification, the co-op reassessed its equal pay system in October 2020.

“Wage analyses has been done twice to measure the wage gap and the results had been good. In 2018, the gender wage difference was 3.9%, while in 2019 it was 2.9%, and in 2020 it was 0,4%, which shows good and improved results. Samkaup’s goal is for the wage difference to be 0%,” added Ms Líf Gunnarsdóttir.

Samkaup continues to monitor its equal pay system, reviewing progress every year to ensure it stays on track.

Samkaup also works to ensure employees have increased access to vocational training, retraining and education. “Women and men enjoy the same opportunity to attend courses to increase their skills at work or for preparation for other jobs at Samkaup. We monitor all talents that go though our educational program and push for equality when needed,” said Ms Líf Gunnarsdóttir.

She argued that while the government’s push for an equal pay system makes companies reconsider their policies, in Samkaup’s case, the decision was also backed by the board and its executive team.

“From day one we had a clear vision and dedication that putting equality in focus would be supported and part of the society we want to have,” she said.

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