The latest on discrimination at work in Finland

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In this week’s blog, we present the latest information there is on discrimination at work in Finland. 

This blog is based on a new research publication just published this week. Researchers at the Labor Institute of Economic Research – Labore and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare published this new report as a part of the analysis, assessment, and research activities of the Finnish Government. Ohto Kanninen, Tuomo Virkola, Eero Lilja, and Shadia Rask were the researchers involved in this project. 

Here we will first tell you how we know what we know about discrimination at work in Finland. Then we’ll summarize the main findings. 

This is not our first blog about discrimination at work in Finland, however. Just a few weeks ago we discussed discrimination specifically in the technical fields. In a blog last summer, we discussed discrimination, bullying, and violence at Finnish workplaces. This blog was mostly based on the 2020 Working Life Barometer. We’ve also discussed some partial remedies such as anonymous recruitment and the use of pay surveys

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Sources of information on discrimination at work in Finland

As the report explains, there are basically three different types of sources that can be used to examine discrimination at work in Finland.

The first source consists of different types of surveys. These track the experiences of employees in Finland. These can relate to different aspects of the Finnish labor market. Sometimes, the labor market was only a partial focus of the survey. 

Such surveys expose the employees’ own experiences of being victims of discrimination. Or, they report how they’ve witnessed instances of discrimination. Thus they report subjective views. 

Such surveys include, for example, the Working Conditions Barometer we’ve referred to in one of our earlier blogs. We’ve also previously used some of the other surveys mentioned in this report. 

Another source consists of the reports and records of different Finnish authorities that deal with discrimination issues.

These include, for example, annual reports of the Ombudsman for Equality, the Non-discrimination Ombudsman, and the Occupational Health and Safety Authority. They also include stats on discrimination-related crimes and case decisions by municipal courts and the labor court of Finland

The third source of information consists of labor and salary statistics. We use these frequently as source material for our blogs. 

Kanninen, Virkola, Lilja, and Rask point out that the differing nature of sources and reporting methods make it difficult to get a thorough understanding of discrimination at work in Finland. 

These sources, furthermore, shed light on this issue from different perspectives. These include personal experiences, changes in the numbers of complaints and court cases as well as statistical differences in pay and employment levels.

In the following, we’ll go over what these sources revealed to Kanninen, Virkola, Lilja, and Rask. First, though, we talk a bit about the legal aspects of discrimination in Finland.

Discrimination at work in Finland

There are several laws in Finland that deal with equality and discrimination.

The Constitution of Finland, for example, declares everyone equal under the law. 

The Act on Equality between Women and Men deals specifically with issues relating to gender equality.

The Non-discrimination Act of Finland lists the personal characteristics based on which discrimination in Finland is illegal. These include

  • age
  • origin
  • nationality
  • language
  • religion
  • belief
  • opinion
  • political activity
  • trade union activity
  • family relationships,
  • state of health
  • disability
  • sexual orientation, or
  • other personal characteristics.

Discrimination is prohibited regardless of whether it is based on a fact or assumption. 

Furthermore, the Criminal Code of Finland criminalizes discrimination at work. 

Kanninen, Virkola, Lilja, and Rask looked at discrimination mainly with respect to the criteria mentioned in the law. They do, however, point out that personal experiences of discrimination can be quite traumatic and significant even though the experiences might not meet the threshold of discrimination as defined in the law. 

They also point out that currently, sources are not particularly good for examining multiple discrimination. These are instances where a person is discriminated against based on multiple criteria. 

Despite these limitations, this is some of what they discovered of the state of discrimination at work in Finland.

A brief summary of findings in the survey data

Survey data from 2018 reveals that most commonly employees in Finland have observed age-related and health-related discrimination. 

About 10 % of employees had witnessed health-related discrimination. Around 8 % had observed discrimination related to old age. Furthermore, about 9 % had witnessed discrimination related to young age. 

7 % had witnessed discrimination related to insufficient language skills. 

Women experience more harassment and discrimination based on their gender than men. About 5 % had witnessed discrimination directed at women. For men, the percentage is around 2 %.

Around 4 % had observed pregnancy or family-related discrimination. The same percentage of employees reported seeing discrimination related to political views, trade union activity, nationality, or skin color. 

About 2 % had witnessed discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression, disability, or religion. 

Over the years, these percentages haven’t changed much apart from a few exceptions. 

For example, the share of employees who have observed discrimination directed against women has come down a bit. The same can be said about discrimination directed at older employees.

On the other hand, in the 2000s about 3 % of employees had witnessed discrimination based on nationality or skin color. In the 2010s, it had risen to 4 %. 

Discrimination based on inadequate language skills in the Finnish national languages has also increased over the years. In 2008, 5 % of employees say they’ve witnessed this type of discrimination. In 2013, 6 % said they had. By 2018, the percentage had risen to 7.

Notes on the survey data

The report, however, is much more nuanced than the above summary might suggest.

The above gives an idea of the prevalence of discrimination experiences at Finnish workplaces in general. The data from different surveys also provide interesting insight into how employees in Finland think discrimination might play out at Finnish workplaces. 

Kanninen, Virkola, Lilja, and Rask, for example, report that according to the 2019 Eurobarometer survey 40 % of respondents from Finland think that gender might place an applicant at a disadvantage in a recruitment situation. This is when otherwise comparable applicants are weighted against each other.  

Surveys focusing on different demographic groups also indicate that experiences of discrimination vary widely based on demographic status.

As an example, 25 % of girls in the 2019 Youth Barometer said they had experienced bullying or discrimination. 11 % of boys said they had. 

Similarly, the prevalence of different types of discrimination among different ethnic minorities varies. For example, in the Survey of Well-being among Foreign-Born Population (FinMonik), about 8 % of Estonian women report experiencing discrimination at recruitment. 13.6 % of Middle Eastern and African men reported the same. 

Summary of findings in the records and reports by Finnish authorities

The Occupational Health and Safety Authority’s (OHSA) annual reports include information on different types of actions related to their duties. These include, for example, the number of requests for advice and for site visits. It also includes the number of site visits the Occupational Health and Safety Authority conducts on their own accord. 

The number of times employees contact the OHSA annually in discrimination matters varies quite a bit. It has, however, hovered between 500 and 600 for the past five years. The numbers for the other reported actions (such as their self-initiated site visits) have also remained relatively stable. 

The OHSA records show that health-based discrimination is the most common reason employees in Finland request the OHSA to conduct a site visit at their workplace. 

However, Kanninen, Virkola, Lilja, and Rask point out that discrimination related to nationality, language, and ethnic origin as a reason for such requests rose notably in 2020. In 2018 and 2019 respectively, it was the reason mentioned in about 10 % of such requests. It was the reason for 27 % of the requests in 2020. 

In police records, health-related discrimination is also most commonly mentioned as a basis for legal action. The second most common is gender. 

Court records show that around 40 discrimination cases in the criminal courts (different levels of seriousness) are decided annually. In addition, there are civil cases related to the Equality Act and the Non-discrimination Act but their numbers vary annually quite a lot. 

The report also discussed pay differences between men and women but doesn’t bring up anything we haven’t discussed in our previous blogs

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