Statement on the draft Government Bill on the reform of legislation on non-discrimination (TAS 146/2013, issued on 31 May 2013)

The Ombudsman for Equality presented the Ministry of Justice with a statement on the proposal for a Government Bill on the reform of legislation on non-discrimination. The draft proposes that a new law on non-discrimination should be enacted that would have a wider scope of application than the present one. A new post of Ombudsman for Non-Discrimination would be established to oversee compliance with the act. The Equality Board and National Non-Discrimination Board would be merged, and for this reason a separate law would also be enacted on the Ombudsman for Equality.

The Ombudsman for Equality believes that it is important to reform the legislation on non-discrimination, and is of the opinion that the act would strengthen protection against discrimination. In its statement, however, the Office of the Ombudsman for Equality focused attention on factors regarding which the draft act might still be improved. The Ombudsman's observations relate to various considerations, including the regulation of multiple discrimination, the prohibition of discrimination, legal protection, sanctions and the system for monitoring compliance with the act.

It is being proposed that the current post of Ombudsman for Minorities should become that of Ombudsman for Non-Discrimination. The competence of the Ombudsman for Non-Discrimination would be broadened to apply to any kind of discrimination under the Non-Discrimination Act. However, it would not apply to the monitoring of individual cases in working life under the Act, and this would be the task of the occupational safety and health authorities. The Ombudsman for Equality is of the view that the Ombudsman for Non-Discrimination should have more scope to act in working life than what has been proposed. The Ombudsman for Non-Discrimination will inevitably evolve a set of strong, special skills to deal with various issues relating to discrimination and the grounds for it, and for individuals it is only natural that they should be able to seek help from an authority that has competence in matters of non-discrimination. If non-discrimination is to be promoted effectively, it is essential that the supervisory authorities have wide-ranging powers.

The Bill includes a proposal to merge the Equality Board with the National Non-Discrimination Board. As far as working life is concerned, a merged board could only deal with matters under the Equality Act but definitely not under the Non-Discrimination Act. It is the opinion of the Ombudsman for Equality that if such a body were set up, it would not help make the system of monitoring comprehensible or rational. For this reason, among others, the boards should not be merged.

The Ombudsman for Equality backs the proposed Act on the Ombudsman for Equality. The Act would strengthen the Ombudsman's independent and sovereign status, as this would be stated in the Act. The draft also proposes that the Ombudsman for Equality should be given the right to appoint and employ its own staff apart from the Head of Division.