Stricter rules against sex discrimination proposed by committee

A definition of the concept of indirect discrimination should be added to the Swedish Act Concerning Equality Between Men and Women, and the ban on discrimination in conjunction with employment should be extended to cover the whole employment process. These are two of the main changes proposed by a governmental committee in September 1999.

A governmental committee chaired by special commissioner Hans Stark, a former chief judge in the Labour Court, has been reviewing certain parts of the Act concerning Equality between Men and Women (jämställdhetslagen, 1991: 433). The review has primarily been conducted in order to achieve harmonisation with EC equality law, and should also been seen in conjunction with the three new Acts forbidding discrimination at work - covering discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin, sexual orientation and disability - adopted in March 1999 (SE9903148F). The issues that have been considered by the committee include the nature of the ban on discrimination set out in the Act, damages for victims of discrimination, wage surveys and issues related to work evaluation.

The committee presented its proposals (SOU 1999:91) on 15 September 1999. It is proposed that:

  • a definition of the concept of "indirect discrimination" be added to the Act;
  • the prohibition against sex discrimination in conjunction with employment should be extended to the whole employment process;
  • if several people have been discriminated against in the same case, each person will have a right to individual damages according to his or her own particular circumstances (currently, the damages are divided into equal parts);
  • the various rules on the burden of proof in the Act should be replaced by an integrated rule where the job-seeker or employee has to show that it is probable that discrimination has occurred. Beyond that, the burden of proof is transferred to the employer; and
  • employers should analyse any pay differences between women and men at the workplace. The committee rejects the idea that trade unions should have a right to investigate the pay position of individuals, where discrimination is suspected. The committee thus follows the direction of a decision taken in January 1999 by the Equal Opportunities Commission (Jämställdhetsnämnden) (SE9902142N). It is recommended, however, that the Equality Ombudsman (Jämställdhetsombudsmannen) should have a right to enter workplaces in order to conduct studies, which may be useful for work evaluation.

The trade unions and the Equality Ombudsman have criticised the proposals for being too cautious, especially on the issue of wage surveys. The unions state that they must have a legal right to know the wages of all those employed at a workplace in order to be able to tackle unfair differences in pay between women and men.

The proposed changes to the Act concerning Equality between Men and Women, if accepted by parliament, will probably be implemented on 1 January 2000.

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