Statement on the Government proposal on legislation concerning the establishment of counties and the reform of health, social and rescue services (HE 241/2020 vp) (TAS 126/2021, issued on 10 March 2021)
On 11 March 2021, the Ombudsman for Equality was heard by Parliament's Employment and Equality Committee on the health and social services reform, which will establish 21 health and social services counties in Finland. The reform would transfer the responsibility for organising healthcare, social welfare and rescue services from municipalities to these counties. At the hearing and in his written statement to the Committee, the Ombudsman for Equality drew attention to three things in particular: the publicity of the wages of county personnel, the harmonisation of wages in connection with the reform, and the equal participation of men and women in public decision-making.
Publicity of wages must be ensured
The Ombudsman for Equality expressed serious concern regarding the effects of the impending reform on the publicity of the wages of personnel transferred into the employ of the counties being established. According to section 7 of the Register Act (Nimikirjalaki), the wages of those employed by municipalities, joint municipal authorities, the government and the Evangelical Lutheran Church are public information.
The publicity of wages has played a significant role in the investigation of pay discrimination cases. The successful investigation of suspected pay discrimination and realisation of the principle of equal pay requires the availability of effective legal remedies to those who suspect discrimination, and above all the right to be informed of the pay of possible individuals in equivalent positions.
This right will be jeopardised, however, unless the Register Act is amended so that the publicity of wages will also cover the personnel of the counties being established. Without an amendment to the Register Act, the status of county employees would differ significantly from that of other public sector personnel, even though the proposal specifically suggests that municipal employment legislation should apply to them.
The importance of pay openness, particularly for the promotion of equal pay, has been stressed both in Finland and at the EU level. The Government Programme of Prime Minister Sanna Marin states that the elimination of pay differences and pay discrimination will be promoted by increasing pay openness through legislative means. The European Commission has also issued a Proposal for a Directive on increasing pay transparency on 4 March 2021.
Pay harmonisation must be implemented in the counties
The Equality Act provides for the principle of equal pay, meaning that the same wages must be paid for the same work or work of equivalent value. The purpose of the principle is to eliminate gender-based discrimination from all factors or conditions affecting the compensation paid for the same work or work of equal value. If pay is determined according to a classification of duties, this classification must be based on the same criteria for men and women. The classification must not involve gender-based discrimination.
The Ombudsman for Equality considers it important for Parliament to issue a clear commitment to adherence with the principle of equal pay in the health and social services reform and its implementation. The social and health care sector has stood out in the communications made to the Ombudsman for Equality about suspected pay discrimination.
Equality must be taken into consideration in public decision-making
It is one of the fundamental objectives of the Equality Act that men and women should have equal opportunities to participate in public planning and decision-making. The Ombudsman for Equality thus commends the proposals attempts to ensure equal participation in the counties’ administrative bodies by men and women. The proposal suggests amending section 4a of the Equality Act so that the provisions of the Act would be applied to electing the members of such bodies. The Ombudsman for Equality considers it important to apply section 4a of the Equality Act to all public administrative bodies referred to in the proposal.