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Different lifting restrictions in schools' work experience instructions (TAS 403/2022, issued on 24 April 2023)

A person contacted the Ombudsman for Equality to report that the written instructions related to schools' work experience periods (TET period) say that, in physical labour, boys are allowed to lift burdens weighing no more than 20 kg and girls burdens no more than 15 kg. Due to this report, the Ombudsman for Equality began investigating on the Ombudsman's own initiative whether the above-mentioned lifting restrictions based on gender are permitted under the Act on Equality between Women and Men (Equality Act).

The Equality Act obligates authorities, education providers and other bodies providing education and training to ensure that girls and boys have equal opportunities for education, training and professional development (section 5). According to the Equality Act, the action of an educational institution or any other body providing training or education shall be deemed to constitute discrimination prohibited under the Act if a person is treated less favourably than others on the basis of gender in the organisation of teaching, among other things (section 8b).

TET periods are governed by the provisions of the Basic Education Act (628/1998) and Young Workers' Act (998/1993). The list of work dangerous for young workers provided in the Annex of the Decree of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on a sample list of work dangerous for young workers (128/2002) used to include the risk of physical overexertion if men regularly lift burdens of over 20 kg and women burdens of over 15 kg. The sample list in the Decree was amended by a Decree adopted in 302/2007, which removed the gender-based lifting limits.

The Ombudsman for Equality requested information on the matter from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, National Board of Education and Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities. Based on the information received, these parties have no information on the basis of the gendered lifting restrictions. In its report, the National Board of Education says that the education provider decides on the solutions related to the organisation of teaching and describes these solutions in the local curriculum.

The Ombudsman for Equality's statement

Conduct placing girls and boys in an unequal position constitutes discrimination based on gender. Treating girls and boys differently in TET period instructions could be justified if it was based on real requirements related to the nature or performance of the work, proportionate and aimed at achieving an acceptable objective. Very few duties in Finland have separate physical requirements for different genders any more.

The Ombudsman for Equality finds that, based on the information obtained in the matter, there are no grounds for justifying different lifting restrictions for girls and boys in the TET period. Based on the above, the Ombudsman for Equality finds that such restrictions are in violation of the Equality Act.

Based on the information obtained in the matter, it appears that some schools have gendered lifting restrictions in their TET instructions because not all schools are aware of the 2007 amendment to the Decree of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The Ombudsman for Equality considers it important that municipalities and teaching providers ensure that TET periods comply with occupational safety legislation and young people taking part in work experience periods are sufficiently familiarised with the workplace's occupational safety instructions.