Ban on discrimination of trans persons included in Equality ActIn April, an amendment to the Equality Act was put before parliament that for the first time would specifically mention the protection of trans and intersex persons from discrimination. "These people are subject to discrimination, which is why it is important that their protection under the law is written into the Equality Act," explains senior officer for legal affairs Johanna Hautakorpi.
The amendments to the Act on Equality Between Men and Women (Equality Act for short) are a part of more extensive work on anti-discrimination legislation. Also up for renewal is the Non-Discrimination Act. This act covers the majority of the grounds for discrimination, including age, ethnic origin and sexual orientation. Regulations concerning the non-discrimination of trans and intersex persons will be included in the Equality Act.
"The Equality Act already prohibits discrimination against people due to gender, pregnancy and child birth, and due to parenting and family responsibilities. Regulations on prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression fit naturally into this aggregate."
The Non-Discrimination Act and the Equality Act both include the prohibition of discrimination, the provision for compensation in cases of discrimination, and the possibility to receive advice and assistance from the authorities. Both laws also carry obligations on promoting equal treatment, but the Equality Act is more detailed in this respect.
Energising workplace equality planningThe reform of the law is also aimed at speeding up the development of equality in working life. Although since 2005 workplaces with minimum of 30 employees have been obliged to draw up an equality plan, which includes a pay survey, the implementation of this requirement has been sketchy.
"The draft legislation specifies how to do the pay survey linked to the equality plan, and how to ensure employee participation. A wholly new element is the employers' obligation to inform employees about the plan, including surveys of the classification of duties, pay and pay differentials of men and women says Hautakorpi.
The hope is that setting requirements for the equality plans will produce a clearer picture than now exists of the state of workplace equality. Based on this, it will be possible to set targets for change and to work out specific ways to improve the situation. This is not merely a matter of describing the situation but of ensuring that equality planning delves into workplace disparities and problems.
"For instance, pay can be compared according to requirements, tasks or another classification. If a survey indicates that there are differences between men and women's pay levels, then the cause must be investigated. If there are no acceptable grounds for this, employers must begin making the necessary adjustments."
Hautakorpi says that in addition to looking at the equality among existing employees, equality planning should also cover recruitment.
"The employer must act so that job vacancies attract both men and women and that everyone has equally good opportunities to get ahead."
Including basic educationIn addition to workplaces, equality planning has involved educational institutions, with the exception of basic education.
"The goal is to carry out equality work systematically at this level too. The importance of basic education may in fact be higher than later education as attitudes are formed at a young age and they have an impact on the choices people make."
Workplace equality plans including pay surveys are an essential part of human resources policy. In educational institutions, planning will aim to develop this activity.
"The plans survey the state of equality and problems related to it. Attention is being paid to such things as student selection, grading and preventing sexual harassment. With equality planning in basic education we can for instance ask girls and boys about how they feel about the support they get from their teacher."
Ombudsman's advice and guidanceThe Ombudsman for Equality is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Equality Act. If the law is not observed, she tries to rectify the situation by providing guidance and advice. If this does not produce results, penalties may be used. Hautakorpi nevertheless stresses the advisory nature of the act.
"Legislation creates frameworks for promoting equality. A plan worked out on paper is not in itself the most important thing. The key issue is to get workplaces and educational institutions to promote the equal treatment of employees, students and pupils in their everyday activities."
Text: Paula Mannonen