Stricter rules proposed against ethnic discrimination

On 1 December 1997, an official committee presented its proposal for a new, more stringent law against ethnic discrimination in Sweden. At the same time the labour market organisations presented a joint recommendation for the promotion of a multicultural working life.

Sweden's present act against ethnic discrimination in working life is ineffective and should be replaced by a new act as from 1 January 1999. This is the conclusion of a committee appointed by the Government to review the legislation, which issued its proposals on 1 December 1997.

According to the committee, the new act should consist of two parts: rules on active measures promoting ethnic diversity at workplaces; and rules forbidding discrimination in individual cases.

Thus, employers would be obliged to promote ethnic diversity at all times. They would have to ensure that working conditions are suitable for all employees regardless of ethnic background, and that persons of different ethnic origins apply for vacant jobs, for example through advertising in media directed at minority groups. The act would also create opportunities for positive action with regard to training and employment. Harassment on ethnic grounds or because of a person's complaint regarding ethnic discrimination would have to be prevented.

Two important novelties in the rules banning discrimination are proposed. In the future, the protection would cover the whole recruitment process and not - as currently - only cases where someone is passed over by the recruitment decision itself. This provision is intended to prevent employers from sorting out applicants at the beginning of the recruitment process by employing irrelevant factors such as a foreign accent or a foreign-sounding name, and to force employers to consider the merits of all applicants without prejudice. The other important novelty is that the act would prohibit discriminatory action irrespective of whether the employer had a discriminatory purpose or not.

Both trade unions and employers' organisations were represented on the committee. Contemporaneously, they worked on a joint guide for the promotion of diversity in working life. It was signed on 21 November 1997 by all three trade union confederations and the employers' organisations for the private as well as for the public sectors, and presented at the same occasion as the proposal for the new act. They also agreed to set up a joint council which will support and evaluate the development of diversity in working life. A forthcoming EIRO feature will describe the joint guide more in detail.

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