Questions and answers about draft equality and non-discrimination action plan for rescue services
Gender equality and non-discrimination are the backbone of society and key prerequisites for safety and security.
As a central safety and security authority, rescue services must implement the principles of equality and non-discrimination in its own activities with regard to the personnel as well as in providing services.
The draft action plan submitted for statements includes a description of the current state of equality and non-discrimination in rescue services and defines objectives for promoting them. The action plan would define the general goals, measures and responsibilities with which rescue services would promote equality and non-discrimination with regard to the preparation of matters, decision-making and service operations.
The survey of the current state conducted during the preparation of the action plan strengthened the prior view that rescue services are a sector strongly segregated by sex. Women account for only 13% of full-time, full-pay personnel. Approximately one in three emergency care workers are women. Moreover, there are very few people with immigrant background working in rescue services.
The low share of women of the personnel is shown in the availability of suitable uniforms and extinguishing equipment, for instance. There are no nationwide guidelines for assessing and instruction questions relating to pregnancy and maternity.
Firefighter courses have only been organised in Finnish in recent years, which makes it more difficult to ensure the provision of services in both national languages. The most recent firefighter course in Swedish was held in 2012. More attention should also be paid to the availability of services in Sámi. Education in the sector should also pay attention to rescuing disabled and handicapped people and taking them into consideration in safety-related communications.
The survey of the current state also indicated that harassment is common in the field in spite of zero tolerance to it. Furthermore, the survey indicated that the statutory obligations regarding plans, quotas and intervening in harassment are incompletely fulfilled in the field. The field also needs to increase expertise in discrimination and questions of equality, both within organisations and at the national level.
Work will now begin to systematically and actively fix the issues and shortcomings in the field. The action plan would be one of the tools used in this work.
The goal of rescue services is for rescue services to be more representative of the entire population. The aim of the action plan would therefore not be to specifically increase the number of women in the field by lowering the criteria.
Rescue services are to be more representative of the entire population so that they could better meet the needs of different population groups and take them into consideration in providing services, thereby promoting the safety of different population groups and preventing inequality.
Many rescue departments and contractual fire brigades have not recognised the fact that the preparation of equality and non-discrimination plans also applies to them.
Rescue departments operate under host municipalities or regional councils. So far, many rescue services have assumed that the equality and non-discrimination plan prepared by the host municipality or regional council would also work as the rescue department’s plan.
Equality and non-discrimination plans must be based on the personnel structure and situation of the organisation. The personnel structure and situation of rescue departments differs strongly from the other personnel structure of municipalities, so plans prepared by the municipalities cannot be applied to rescue departments.
One action proposal of the draft action plan submitted for statements is that each rescue department would have an equality and non-discrimination plan prepared for the organisation in question. With regard to the operations of contractual fire brigades, the rescue department’s equality and non-discrimination guidelines and the association’s own plans would be co-ordinated.
Active and systematic work will begin in rescue departments and contractual fire brigades to fix the issue. The action plan would become visible in rescue services with regard to both rescue operations and HR policy.
The equality and non-discrimination action plan for rescue services would apply to the state’s rescue services operators, rescue departments, associations and contractual fire brigades.
The draft action plan was prepared by the rescue services equality and non-discrimination working group.
The working group, led by the Ministry of the Interior Department for Rescue Services, includes representatives of regional state administrative agency, rescue departments, Emergency Services Academy Finland, Helsinki Rescue School, Suomen Pelastusalan ammattilaiset (association of Finnish rescue services professionals), Suomen Palopäällystöliitto (association of Finnish fire officers), The Finnish National Rescue Association (SPEK), Suomen Sopimuspalokuntien liitto (association of Finnish contractual fire brigades) and Suomen Pelastusalan naiset ry (association of women in fire and rescue service).
In surveying the current state of equality and non-discrimination in rescue services, the working group carried out diverse questionnaires and investigations to obtain as comprehensive a view as possible of the state.
With the questionnaires, the working group sought ideas from rescue services operators and contractual fire brigade members about the state and practices of equality and non-discrimination in rescue services. In addition, the working group asked organisations representing population groups exposed to the risk of discrimination in a separate questionnaire how rescue services are seen from the point of view of the said population groups.
Accounts were requested from Statistics Finland, Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, divisions of occupational safety and health of regional state administrative agency and the Emergency Services Academy Finland.
In addition, during its work the working group received information from the Ombudsman for Equality and Non-Discrimination Ombudsman and rescue services of different countries in which equality and non-discrimination work has been done for a long time.
After the circulation for comments, the working group will make the required amendments to the draft action plan based on the feedback received. The aim is for the Director General for Rescue Services to approve the action plan during autumn 2021.
The rescue services equality and non-discrimination working group would be responsible for the implementation and follow-up of the action plan.