Section 6 of the Constitution provides for equality and prohibits discrimination. The main thrust of this constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination is to ensure formal equality, i.e. the principle that people in similar circumstances are to be treated similarly, but it also aims to reach full, substantive equality in practice.
The constitutional prohibition of discrimination may be directly invoked in courts and regular laws are to be interpreted in accordance to it. So far the constitutional anti-discrimination provision has been applied mainly in situations involving the use of public power, but it may in some instances have a bearing on relationships between private parties as well.
The Non-Discrimination Act (which entered into force on 1st of February 2004) is the main instrument adopted transposing the EU directives on equal treatment (the Racial Equality Directive and the Employment Equality Directive) into national law. Substantially, the Non-discrimination Act follows quite closely the protection required by the two EU directives on equal treatment, although in some respects it goes beyond the minimum requirements set forth in them.
In employment and education/training discrimination is prohibited on the grounds required by the directives: age, ethnic and national origin, religion, belief, disability, sexual orientation and additionally on grounds of nationality, opinion, health, language and "other reasons relating to a person".
In providing public or private services on offer or available to the general public (including also social welfare, health care, social security benefits, housing and movable and immovable property) and in military service the Non-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination only on the ground of ethnic origin.
To improve the protection against ethnic discrimination two bodies were set up at the time of implementing the Directives: the Ombudsman for Minorities and the Discrimination Tribunal both have a task to supervise compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act They do not have authority for combating discrimination in employment. This task relies on Occupational Health and Safety Authorities.
Already upon passing the legislation implementing the two Equality Directives the Finnish Parliament expressed its view that the government should prepare an overall reform of the equality legislation that would provide all grounds of discrimination equal levels of protection, i.e. that the applicable material scope and the available legal redress mechanisms should not vary from one ground to another.
This reform has been in preparation since the beginning of 2007, but it has been blocked by several disagreements, among other things on whether to combine gender equality issues into the same legislation as other discrimination grounds and on whether to allow the Ombudsman for Equality and the Discrimination Tribunal to combat discrimination also in employment. The preparation for the reform continues, and legislation is expected to be presented to the parliament in late 2012 or early 2013.
The Penal Code has two provisions on discrimination. The first covers discrimination, inter alia, in the provision of services and in the discharge of public duties, while the second covers discrimination in the field of employment. There is a considerable amount of case law under the first provision, mainly regarding ethnic discrimination. Punishment for discrimination laid down by law is in the form of fines or imprisonment for up to six months. In practice the sentence for discrimination has been fines.
All the main domestic anti-discrimination provisions prohibit, either explicitly or implicitly, discrimination on the basis of a wide variety of grounds, including age, ethnic and racial origin, religion, belief, sexual orientation and disability. Gender equality is addressed in the Constitution and in the Penal Code, and in a separate law of general application, the Act on Equality between Women and Men. Finnish legislation does not explicitly address multiple discrimination.
Finland has ratified most of the main international agreements relevant for fighting discrimination. Conventions that have been ratified and incorporated into national law are part and parcel of the national legal system; they can be directly applied in courts and must be taken into account in the interpretation of regular laws. This adds to the domestic legal protection from discrimination.
The Åland Islands, which is an autonomous Swedish-speaking province of Finland with about 26 200 inhabitants and has legislative powers in certain particular subject areas such as employment, education and social welfare, has adopted its own set of non-discrimination laws. These laws prohibit discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, religion and belief, disability, age, sex and sexual orientation. The legislation in the Åland Islands complies with the Directives.
European Convention on Human Rights (including Protocol No. 12), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Finland has signed but not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the ILO Convention No 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, although promises of ratification of the ILO No 169 have been made and renewed now for two decades.