Statement on the proposal to review the legal provisions on equality plans in the workplace (TAS 239/2013, issued on 29 July 2013)

The Ombudsman for Equality presented the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health with a statement on the proposal to review the provisions in the Equality Act on equality plans in the workplace (Reports of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 2013:21).

The Ombudsman for Equality regards it as necessary to review the legal provisions on equality plans in the workplace and pay surveys. The aim of the proposal is to clarify and define more closely these provisions so that they effectively promote gender equality and safeguard the principle of equal pay at workplaces. The Ombudsman for Equality is of the view that some of the committee's proposals would help achieve these objectives. However, the proposal would not mean that the Act would be made clearer and improved as intended in all respects.

The Ombudsman is not in favour of amending the provisions of the Equality Act so that an equality plan would have to be drawn up at least once every two years. The Ombudsman is of the opinion that the plan should be drawn up annually in the future. This would help to address equality issues on a more regular and continuous basis and to integrate them with other aspects of the workplace operation.

A provision is being proposed for the Act that staff representatives must have opportunities to take part and have a say in the drafting of equality plans. The Ombudsman for Equality considers this proposal to be very imprecise. An essential consideration in pondering the opportunities for participation and influence on the part of staff representatives is, for example, the extent to which they have the right of access to information. Nevertheless, the Committee is making no concrete proposals for extending rights of access to information or proposing the wording of a provision on specific right of access to information in the Act.

If staff representatives are actually to have a role in pay surveys, they will need to have the pay details of all staff groups in the service of the employer. To examine the reasons for differences in pay identified in pay surveys may also require the pay details relating to individual employees to be processed while an equality plan is being drawn up, even if they cannot be included in the final equality plan. In the public sector, where pay details are public knowledge, it is already possible to proceed in this way within the scope of the current regulations. The Ombudsman for Equality concludes that the legislative proposal should clearly state, as a manifestation of the legislator's intention, that this should also be the way to proceed in practice, if necessary. The private sector will also have to extend the rights of access to information of individual employees who suspect pay discrimination and of staff representatives involved in pay surveys.

It is the task of the Ombudsman for Equality to inspect equality plans and compliance with obligations relating to pay surveys. In its statement, the Office of the Ombudsman for Equality once again mentions the fact that equality plans can only be inspected to a very limited extent with current levels of resources. It is encouraging that the work group's proposal should focus attention on the fact that the Ombudsman's resources are meagre and state that effective monitoring would require more robust resourcing.