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Union: Harassment complaints downplayed at Foreign Ministry

According to the trade union Juko for public sector workers, the ministry has not followed through on its own guidelines for dealing with complaints of harassment.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Image: Jyrki Valkama / Yle

Employees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs say that the ministry has not properly dealt with numerous complaints of harassment.

According to Juko, the trade union for public sector workers, ministry employees filed dozens of harassment complaints, but a large number of them have not been investigated as they should have been according to the ministry’s internal guidelines.

In the Foreign Ministry’s spring 2018 survey on equality it was revealed that 54 complaints had been made but only 13 cases had been investigated according to the ministry’s instructions.

According to respondents, the ministry guidelines on dealing with claims of harassment were not followed in 17 harassment cases; in 24 cases the individual who filed the report was unaware how the situation had proceeded. In total, 376 workers responded to the survey.

”Either they don’t know how to or they don’t want to deal with unpleasant issues," said chief shop steward Kari Lehtonen. "The figures are large enough and the situation is worrisome that something needs to be done.”

Verbal harassment, inappropriate touching, belittling

According to Lehtonen, human resources has been aware of the complaints which range from verbal harassment to inappropriate touching.

”The typical cases are on the verbal side, such as belittling. In addition, comments such as 'you have beautiful hair' or 'you’ve dressed unusually beautifully today' were made," said Lehtonen.

One case came to light that dealt with sexual harassment.

”This should come to an end as should all the other incidents. They shouldn’t be brushed under the rug or downplayed,” said Lehtonen.

Lehtonen says that in the Ministry there are 80 embassies and consulates abroad and a large ministry in Finland. The accusations of harassment are not focused on any one specific unit, he says.

The Swedish case

Previously, one Foreign Ministry case came to light, when then ambassador to Sweden Jarmo Viinanen received a written warning regarding sexual harassment.

Later on Tuesday Foreign Minister Timo Soini and Development Minister Anne-Mari Virolainen announced they would order an independent report into the union's claims.

The Foreign Ministry’s undersecretary Pirkko Hämäläinen says the ministry doesn't downplay its employees' concerns.

”We have done lots of work to prevent harassment as well as respond to complaints. We take this very seriously,” says Hämäläinen.

Since 2010, the Ministry has had a unit that focuses on well being at work, which has dealt with complaints that it has received according to Hämäläinen.

Now the ministry is preparing an equality plan that will further address the issue.

"We’re aiming to train our staff so that our directors and heads of department know how to deal with these types of situations,” she says.

EDIT: Updated at 14:04 to include news of the independent report ordered by ministers.

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