The right to equal treatment is a fundamental right of every human being. This is both an independent right and also applies to the implementation of any other human rights, since they must also apply equally to everybody.
The right to equal treatment is protected both by the Constitution of Estonia and separate Acts, such as, for example, the Employment Contracts Act, the Equal Treatment Act and the Gender Equality Act.
The advocacy activities of the Estonian Human Rights Centre are aimed at efficient implementation of the principle of equal treatment in various fields where it does not function well to date. This covers general notification work in order for human beings to know their rights, cooperation with authorities upon better implementation of the right, and strategic litigation in order to create precedents through the court.
One of the most discussed challenges in the field of equal treatment in recent years has been the passage and correct implementation of the Registered Partnership Act. Correct implementation thereof is one of the priorities of the advocacy activities of the Estonian Human Rights Centre, since it helps promote the factual situation of not only LGBTIQ+ people, but also promotes human rights and attitudes that support tolerance in general in Estonia.
What is equal treatment?
The equal treatment principle means that people must not be discriminated on the basis on some characteristics that are irrelevant to the situation. The Equal Treatment Act identifies eight such characteristics:
- nationality (ethnical origin)
- skin colour
- religious or other beliefs
- sexual orientation
Gender is brought out as a separate impersmissible ground for unequal treatment. Discrimination based on gender is regulated with the Gender Equality Act.
Discrimination takes place if a person is treated differently based on one of the previously mentioned grounds. Difference in treatment might be happening at the very moment or it is known that it might happen in future.
In case of discrimination it is important to observe that there would be a comparative situation of two people in similar circumstances. The two different persons must be in a similar or same situation (e.g. in recruitment for a job). For example:
- person with disability and without it
- man and woman
- younger and older person
- two persons with different skin colour
- religious and non-religious person
- person with a specific political conviction and person with another political conviction
- sexual orientation: LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and other
- Estonian and other nationality
The areas where discrimination and unequal treatment may take place are different. They might be related to work (recruiting, promoting, contracting, resigning, paying, etc.), education (access to education, vocational training), organisational activities or public services.
Some examples from everyday life about how discrimination may occur and when to consider counselling:
- A non-Estonian applies for a job, but they are told that the position is no longer available. Soon after, a person within the same age group is offered a job interview and even though they inform the manager that they lack the necessary training and experience, the manager implies that the applicant may be hired.
- A job advertisement is published in a newspaper, where it is specified that a sales representative is needed, who must be male and somewhere between the ages of 20 and 35.
- An enterprise receives CVs from job applicants and automatically leaves aside all those, who do not appear to have an Estonian name, based on the assumption that they do not speak Estonian.
- An enterprise must lay off employees and the first ones to be laid off are the ones who have been on sick leave during the last year.
- An enterprise has a different hourly wage for male and female employees.
- An enterprise prefers a male employee over a female employee, based on the assumption that women are more often on sick leave due to their children.
- A young woman is asked during a job interview whether she plans to have children in the next few years.
- A female employee receives e-mails or messages at work with sexual undertones.
- An enterprise has established a rule, that all female employees must wear a uniform, which includes a very short skirt and a blouse with a wide cleavage.
- All the workers of the Estonian affiliate of a foreign company receive a raise, except the secretary. The reasoning is that the income of the company does not depend on the work of the secretary.