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Statement on reindeer herders’ right to stand-in help, particularly during family leave (TAS 134/2021, issued on 18 March 2021)

The Sámi Parliament has asked the Ombudsman for Equality and Non-Discrimination Ombudsman for statements on the Reindeer herders’ stand-in help act (Laki poronhoitajien sijaisavusta) currently in force, discrimination against reindeer herders and inequality between men and women in the stand-in help system. 

The Sámi Parliament made a proposal for the development of the reindeer herders’ stand-in help system to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Farmers' Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Mela) in May 2020. According to the proposal, reindeer herders’ right to stand-in help, for example during family leave, should be safeguarded. Reindeer herders are currently only entitled to stand-in help when unable to work due to illness or accident. In this regard, reindeer herding does not have equal status with livelihoods such as agriculture or fur farming.

In his statement, the Ombudsman for Equality refers to Directive 2010/41/EU on the application of the principle of equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity in a self-employed capacity. It provides for the right of female self-employed workers, as defined in the Directive, to maternity benefits.  According to the Directive, female self-employed workers must have access to any existing services supplying temporary replacements.  The purpose of this provision is to enable female self-employed workers to take maternity leave. 

The Ombudsman for Equality notes that every family and entrepreneur is different and accordingly has different ways of finding a suitable balance between work and family life. Access to stand-in help is one arrangement that can improve the opportunities of entrepreneurs, particularly sole proprietors and small entrepreneurs, to find a balance between work, motherhood and parenthood. It would also be conducive to promoting gender equality. Temporary replacement services can make starting a business possible, particularly for women, but they can also be significant for male entrepreneurs in balancing work and family life. They can give self-employed parents a real chance to use their family leave for its intended purpose.

A reform of farmers’ holiday and stand-in legislation is included in Prime Minister Marin's Government Programme. The Ombudsman for Equality considers it important that the drafters of the reform also pay attention to the gender impact of the acts, and that the possibilities of reindeer herders for balancing motherhood, parenthood and entrepreneurship be improved in this context.   

The Sámi Parliament compares reindeer herders’ rights to stand-in help to the more extensive rights granted to agricultural entrepreneurs. In the Ombudsman for Equality’s opinion, this issue can be evaluated from the perspective of non-discrimination in general, instead of through the Act on Equality Between Women and Men.