Foreign Ministry hit by dozens of unresolved harassment accusations

While Foreign Ministry staff complained about harassment and inappropriate workplace behaviour, very few of them ever found out what happened to their cases.

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Still image from Foreign Ministry video showing logo / Credit: Ulkoministeriö YouTube

A new report highlights a problem of unresolved harassment accusations in Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ulkoministeriö.

The Public Education Consultancy Organisation JUKO says there have been dozens of reports of harassment at the ministry, but most of them have not been investigated in accordance with the ministry’s own regulations.

“The employer has criticised staff representatives who have asked for clarification. This is very worrying” says Katja Aho a lawyer for JUKO.

“This is a very worrying signal which can not be overcome with a shrug. No work community can silently accept improper treatment or harassment. Personnel representatives must be able to intervene in any improper action so that no adverse consequences are caused by bad management” she says.

In the spring, the ministry carried out a survey of employees and found that 54 cases had been reported to superiors, but only 13 of those had been investigated in accordance with regulations.

In 17 cases there was no harassment found, while in 24 cases the individuals who made complaints didn’t even know how their cases had been handled.

Zero tolerance approach

The Foreign Ministry says it has a zero tolerance approach in force to inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment, however JUKO says they’ve tried to push several cases of harassment through the ministry’s complaints system without success.

“All cases of harassment and ill-treatment, including sexual harassment, must be taken very seriously and identified in cooperation with the staff and its representatives. It is unsustainable that harassment and bullying will continue year after year” says Maria Löfgren, JUKO’s Executive Director.

JUKO says that instead of welcoming evidence of harassment, the ministry’s employers’ representatives tried to dodge the matter.

Löfgren says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s example demonstrates that more effective means of combating harassment are needed.

Foreign Ministry responds

Finland’s Europe Minister Sampo Terho (Blue) concedes that the ministry needs to take quick actions when harassment complaints are received, and says that they’ll make some concrete changes to working practices.

”Structures needs to be altered so that the employers understand their obligations and complies with statutory requirements that are already in place, so that everyone can work without fear of disturbance at the workplace” he told MTV Uutiset’s Huomenta Suomi programme.

”We need to create a some kind of monitoring system which will also be realized in the future, and also arrange training for managers to let them understand their obligations”.