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NEWS FROM THE ADVOCATE

2023

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended that the Ministry of Justice amends or supplements the draft Judicial Service Act. In order to protect against age-based discrimination, the Advocate recommended that the Ministry should justify why judges should necessarily cease to serve at the age of 70. Aligning the provisions of the draft law on deprivation of operational capacity with the Family Code was also recommended, according to which said deprivation of operational capacity is no longer possible.

In the recommendation to the Ministry of Justice, the Advocate noted that the draft Judicial Service Act also contained a provision which indicates age-based discrimination.

One of the reasons for the termination of the judicial function is namely also “reaching the age of 70”, whereby no justifications are provided as to why the judicial function should necessarily terminate at that age.

The Advocate therefore recommended that the Ministry supplements the draft law with an explanation for such a decision, as this is the only way in which it would be possible to assess whether the proposed regulation can be considered as a permissible exception to the prohibition of discrimination or not.

The Advocate also recommended that the Ministry replaces the text on the loss of operational capacity in the draft law. The Advocate pointed out that since the entry into force of the Family Code in April 2019, deprivations of operational capacity are no longer a possibility, an individual may merely be placed under guardianship.

It was therefore proposed to the Ministry to bind the termination of the judicial function to the condition that said judge would be placed under guardianship by a final decision, so that said judge would no longer be able to independently perform legal transactions which are crucial for the performance of the judicial function.

At the same time, the Advocate recommended that the fact whether a placement under guardianship constitutes the limitations due to which it is permissible to terminate the judicial function should be evaluated on a case-to-case basis when it comes to placing a judge under guardianship.

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the national equality body, presented the work of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality in 2022 to mag. Urška Klakočar Zupančič, President of the National Assembly. During the meeting, Miha Lobnik presented her with the Annual report and also highlighted the discriminatory treatment of persons with disabilities and the obstacles that certain groups of people are facing when accessing health care due to the digitalisation of services. At a joint press release after the meeting, the Advocate and the President declared their commitment to ensuring respect of the principles of equal treatment and equal opportunities of all people, regardless of their personal grounds.

After the meeting, Miha Lobnik said that the Annual report of the Advocate is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the distress of people in the field of protection against discrimination. “For every reported case of discrimination, ten or more similar cases go unreported. Some people are afraid that complaining would cause them additional issues, or believe that filing an application would not have changed anything. Sometimes, however, it is also difficult to collect evidence and therefore impossible to identify the discrimination that has occurred. The Advocate’s Annual report is an opportunity for us to look at the suboptimal issues and the questions that burden a large number of people in Slovenia.”

The Head of the Advocate and Urška Klakočar Zupančič, President of the National Assembly, also talked about discrimination based on the personal grounds of disability. Miha Lobnik pointed out at the meeting that last year, the Advocate provided assistance to 440 people who considered themselves to be discriminated against, most of whom claimed discrimination on the grounds of disability. “There is still a lot to be done when it comes to persons with disabilities, particularly in the field of accessibility of public spaces for persons with disabilities. This is one area where we have fallen asleep a little bit, so to speak, so it would be right to actually start implementing the positive aspects that are already legalised. Of course, we know that a lot of things often stop with money, but this is not an excuse not to do everything we need to do to fully integrate disabled people into our society and provide them with appropriate access everywhere,” said Urška Klakočar Zupančič after the meeting.

The Advocate and the President also drew attention to improving the availability of health services. The Advocate namely received several testimonies from people with a difficult experience of not being able to access their personal doctor. “The digitalisation of health care that has been taking place up until now was, in my opinion, too rough on the patients,” said Miha Lobnik. “Not everyone is equally able to use new technologies to successfully present their symptoms when they are weak or sick, and thus get the service they need. The office of the Advocate will continue paying attention to this issue since the people who fail to obtain access to their doctor are usually the weak, those without a voice in the society.” Urška Klakočar Zupančič also plead to ensure accessibility in health care, calling on the competent authorities to always put the patient first when searching for solutions in health care: “The patient must have access to good health care, whereby said access must be such that they can also exercise their rights effectively. Not everyone excels at writing emails, browsing apps etc.,” she warned.

In their joint press release, the Head of the Advocate and the President of the National Assembly also highlighted the problem of discrimination in the field of employment and work, both in the private and public sector. Among the identified cases of discrimination, Miha Lobnik highlighted discrimination against Roma on the basis of their ethnic origin, as well as the successful conclusion of the defence of a discriminated cycling judge on the grounds of their age, which the Advocate also reports on in its Annual report. The President of the National Assembly mag. Klakočar Zupančič also emphasized that the National Assembly, as a legislator, must closely listen to the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, who can detect potentially discriminatory provisions in advance through its priceless experience and expertise.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality addressed the alleged discrimination of pupils due to the fact that their secondary school organized a mandatory week-long trip abroad. The complainant claimed that this is discriminatory against students who cannot afford to pay to participate in the trip. The Advocate found that the school, together with the parents, collected dedicated contributions in order to pay for the participation of the students who would otherwise not be able to attend the trip due to their financial situation. Therefore, the Advocate did not find any discriminatory conduct.

The Advocate received an anonymous complaint about the alleged discrimination, which said that a certain secondary school intended to organize a mandatory week-long trip abroad for second-year high-school students. The complainant believed that this decision of the school could disadvantage all students who could not afford the trip due to their personal grounds of financial status.

In the discrimination investigation procedure, the Advocate verified whether the allegations contained in the complaint of discrimination were true, and asked the secondary school in question to provide explanations.

The school explained to the Advocate that the parents of the pupils agreed with the trip and also expressed their support during parent-teacher meetings; furthermore, the trip was also supported by the PTA. During their meetings, they agreed to collect voluntary contributions to the school fund in order to pay for the participation of all pupils who would otherwise have not been able to attend it. They specifically emphasised that one of the reasons for organising the trip in such a way was to have the students from families with financial difficulties to be able to participate in at least one activity that was taking place abroad. The school namely also offers optional trips. They stated that some parents have already asked for help in covering the costs of the trip, which the school agreed to. When it came to students who cancelled their participation, they tried to ask them directly if they would be attending the trip with financial assistance.

Based on these statements, the Advocate found that the school, using financial assistance from a special school fund, made it possible for students from less affluent families to attend a mandatory trip abroad just like their peers whose parents or families do not have similar financial difficulties. Therefore, the Advocate decided that the school did not violate the prohibition of discrimination by organising a mandatory trip abroad, since it provided financial assistance to prevent such discrimination.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality found discrimination in applying for a public tender for the rental of apartments due to the personal ground of family status. In the tender of the Housing Fund of the Republic of Slovenia, single-parent families with shared (joint) custody were placed at a disadvantage compared to other applicants in the invocation of priority categories.

Due to the allegedly discriminatory provision of the tender of the Housing Fund of the Republic of Slovenia (hereinafter: the Fund), the Advocate of the Principle of Equality was approached by a divorced mother of two children. She pointed out that the tender was discriminatory towards single-parent families with shared custody in the invocation of priority categories. The Fund requires them to enclose a certified statement from the other parent, agreeing that the minor child or children can be invoked in the tender in order to qualify for the priority category. At the same time, the statement also causes the other parent to waive their right to invoke the children in the priority category, should they ever apply for the Fund’s tender in the future. Since this condition only applies to single-parent families with shared (joint) custody, the condition places them at a disadvantage compared to other applicants when it comes to the invocation of priority categories.

The invocation of priority categories represents a number of benefits, including the advantage of acquiring a rental apartment.

In the discrimination investigation procedure, the Fund explained to the Advocate that by requesting the submission of a statement from the other parent, they wanted to prevent the provisions of the tender from being circumvented. When the Advocate asked the Fund how many such violations by single-parent families with shared (joint) custody they have detected so far, the Fund responded that no special records are being kept. According to the Fund, a certified statement of the other parent is necessary due to their negative experiences from the past which were, however, not supported by data. The Advocate found that the request for the submission of a statement by the other parent constitutes an interference with the benefits of both parents, and also leads to different treatment due to the personal ground of their family status.

As the process continued, the Advocate examined whether such a regulation could be considered as a permissible exception to the prohibition of discrimination; after receiving explanations from the Fund, the Advocate found that this was not the case.

The requirement to submit a statement from the other parent does not pursue the goal of equality between the parents, since this is precisely what puts one of the parents at a disadvantage from the beginning. Both parents are obliged to provide the child with adequate living conditions and should, according to the Advocate’s assessment, be treated independently of each other, each in their capacity of a single parent in a monoparental family. The Fund also failed to explain why, for single-parent families with shared (joint) custody, only a general warning against providing false information and the consequences of providing said false information was not sufficient, as is the case for other applicants.

Based on the aforementioned circumstances, the Advocate found discrimination due to the personal ground of family status. At the outset, single-parent families with shared (joint) custody were already placed at a disadvantage compared to other applicants when it comes to invoking priority categories.

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The Advocate of the Principle of Equality (the Advocate) made several recommendations on the draft proposal of the Companies Act prepared by the Ministry of Economy, Tourism and Sport (the METS). This Act transposes several European directives into Slovenian law, including directives related to ensuring gender balance in decision-making bodies of companies. The Advocate proposes to the Ministry to expand the circle of companies that must ensure gender balance in managerial positions.

The Advocate proposed that the Ministry implements a series of changes that could more effectively ensure a more balanced gender representation in decision-making bodies.

The Advocate therefore recommended that the Ministry expands the circle of companies that must ensure equal gender representation in decision-making bodies to all companies with a majority investment of the State or the local community, as well as to all companies with over 250 employees. Despite the prohibition of discrimination and all measures to ensure equal opportunities, women are still underrepresented in the highest decision-making authorities in Slovenia. Practical experience also shows that greater representation of women has a beneficial effect on companies.

It was also pointed out that all companies, not only the ones that do not meet the share of gender representation, should determine the criteria and conditions of the selection procedure before the selection of the candidate, and make them publicly available. Publicly published criteria namely contribute to the prevention of discrimination. All companies should also provide the candidates who were not selected for a certain position with the information and justifications on the course of the selection procedure, at the request of said candidate. All companies should be able to justify their choice to the candidates who have not been selected.

The Advocate also recommended that the law specifies exceptions when companies are not obliged to prioritise the person of the under-represented gender in the case of equally qualified candidates in the selection procedure.

The Advocate also drew attention to the provision according to which, despite an established violation of the law, the selected candidate would remain in office, while the unselected candidate would only have the possibility of a civil action for damages. The Advocate recommends the opposite: that such appointment be null and void, and that, at the same time, the injured party is entitled to receive damages and compensation. The aim of the directive are namely not damages but achieving a more balanced representation between women and men.

The Advocate also recommended that the companies provide data on the share of gender representation, the measures taken, and the reasons for the under-representation to the Agency of the Republic of Slovenia for Public Legal Records and Related Services (ARSPLRRS). In terms of accessibility and transparency, as well as technical suitability, the ARSPLRRS is the most reasonable address for collecting this data, as it already publishes information on companies from their annual reports on its website.

The Advocate also recommended that the ARSPLRRS and the Labour Inspectorate of the Republic of Slovenia take over the supervision of the implementation of the provisions of the Act intended to provide greater representation of the under-represented gender. According to the Protection against Discrimination Act, the offense bodies for any violations of the prohibition of discrimination are various competent inspectorates.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality carried out an assessment of the discriminativeness of the provision of the Conditions, Rules and Criteria for the Registration and Categorisation of Athletes which state that persons over the age of 50 cannot obtain the title of a registered athlete, even though they meet all other legal criteria required to obtain said title. The Advocate assessed that the provision was discriminatory, since the Expert Council for Sport failed to provide any arguments in the discrimination investigation procedure that would justify such a different treatment of athletes based on their age. Athletes are therefore treated differently by the Committee purely on the basis of the personal ground of their age.

The Advocate was approached by an individual who needed advice about their situation; even though they are a member of the Slovenian national martial arts team, they cannot obtain the status of a registered athlete. They stated that this was due to the reasons prepared by the Olympic Committee of Slovenia and adopted by the Expert Council for Sport, which state that such a status can only be obtained by persons under the age of 51. Due to the fact that they do not have the status of a registered athlete, they are also not entitled to free preliminary and periodic medical examinations to which other registered athletes are entitled under the Pension and Disability Insurance Act. In addition, their sports association is potentially also suffering damages due to this restriction; when applying for calls for proposals for funding sports programmes, one of the criteria for allocating funds also pertains to the number of registered athletes who train in a particular club.

In the process of assessing discrimination, the Expert Council for Sport explained to the Advocate that in the field of sport, the establishment of opportunities for high-quality sports endeavours in a safe and healthy environment, as provided for in the Sports Act, is also pursued. When it comes to children, this is achieved by ensuring that they can only obtain the status of a registered and categorised athlete in the upper grades of primary school. The Council also added that the same goal is pursued by setting out the upper age limit at which it is still possible to obtain the status of a registered athlete. As a justification for setting such an age limit, the Council stated that “some time after the age of 35, the human body does not regenerate at the same intensity as before achieving this age limit”.

During the assessment procedure, the Advocate therefore evaluated whether the provision could be considered as a permissible exception to the prohibition of discrimination. Such exceptions include measures which pursue a legitimate goal and which use appropriate, strictly necessary, and proportionate means to achieve the said legitimate goal.

Based on the explanations received, the Advocate assessed that the aspirations of the Expert Council for Sport to have everyone enjoy sports in a safe and healthy manner were legitimate. However, according to the Advocate, setting the age of 50 as the upper age limit according to which Slovenian athletes, who may even be members of the national team, cannot obtain the status of a registered athlete, is not an appropriate measure to achieve a legitimate goal, according to the explanations of the Council.

Athletes who are older than 50 can still compete, despite not having the status of a registered athlete. However, due to the rules, the State does not recognise the status of a registered athlete for those athletes, which is why they are not entitled to free preventive and periodic medical examinations. The effect of those Rules is therefore opposite of the legitimate goal pursued. If athletes are no longer eligible for preventive medical examinations after the age of 50, this means that their chances of playing sports in a safe manner are reduced. At the same time, the clubs where these athletes train also potentially receive less funding to finance their activity than they would if these members could obtain the status of a registered athlete. Since some athletes and club members do not have this status, their membership does not bring additional points to clubs in public tenders for the co-financing of their activities, which can also have a negative impact on the general level of safety in playing sports.

The Advocate therefore assessed that the rule according to which persons over the age of 50 cannot obtain the status of a registered athlete is discriminatory. The distinction between athletes is only based on age, which is a legally protected personal ground under the Protection against Discrimination Act. However, the Expert Council for Sport did not provide a reasoned explanation for such different treatment, pursuant to which this inferior treatment could be considered as an exception to the prohibition of discrimination.

In its assessment, the Advocate also stated that the maximum age for authorising the registration of athletes is not provided for under the Sports Act. However, the law stipulates that the establishment of opportunities to engage in sports is pursued for every single Slovenian citizen, regardless of their gender, race, social status, religious belief, language and nationality or any other personal ground, including age.

Based on the established discriminativeness of the provision, the Advocate recommended to the Expert Council for Sport of the Republic of Slovenia to eliminate the upper age limit for the registration of athletes in the Rules.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality has prepared a special report on the inaccessibility of public facilities for persons with disabilities. The Advocate notes that spaces which should be equally accessible to all residents are mostly inaccessible to persons with disabilities. And the prospects do not look good, either. The Advocate established the situation on the basis of a self-assessment of over 2,200 persons responsible for the management of public spaces. In their self-assessments, they mostly expressed the belief that they will not be able to ensure accessibility until 11 December 2025 when, according to the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act, all spaces in public use should be made accessible to all residents. In the report, the Advocate made several recommendations for improving the situation.

“As a society, we need to eliminate obstacles in the public space so that all those with mobility difficulties can reach all spaces that are, as of now, already available to the majority,” emphasized the Head of the Advocate, Miha Lobnik, on the occasion of issuing said special report entitled “Inaccessibility of public facilities for persons with disabilities”.

According to self-assessments performed by over 2,200 people responsible for buildings and spaces in public use, a large proportion of these facilities are not accessible to persons with disabilities.

The reasons for this are, among other things, the lack of financial resources, the lack of awareness of the duty of obliged entities to ensure the accessibility of facilities for persons with disabilities, and regulations in the field of cultural heritage protection, which further complicate the process of adaptation of facilities. Some of the people responsible for ensuring accessibility are also unaware of where and how to find information to prepare projects and make the necessary adjustments.

The analysis of 1,645 fully completed questionnaires received by the Advocate reveals that one in four public space operators believes that they will not be able to provide adequate construction adjustments by 11 December 2025, the date of expiry of the statutory deadline for regulating the accessibility of these facilities. According to the self-assessments of the operators who completed the questionnaire by providing answers to all questions, approximately 40% of the facilities will still be left without the necessary technical adjustments. About 60% of respondents who completed the entire questionnaire estimated that their premises would not be equipped with sound and light indicators or with written information, available in easy-to-understand language, by December 2025.

The Advocate made several recommendations with the view to improve the situation. It was recommended that the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, in accordance with the Protection against Discrimination Act and the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (the EOPDA) and in cooperation with the Urban Planning Institute, provides a methodological and professional comprehensive analysis of the situation in terms of spatial accessibility of all public facilities, whereby said analysis should be made publicly available. Furthermore, the Ministry should also establish a national advisory information point that will offer comprehensive information, materials, and contacts in one place to help and advise on all aspects of the obligation to ensure the accessibility of public facilities for people with disabilities, particularly for taxpayers, pursuant to the EOPDA. Special attention should be paid to content related to adjustments in the form of sound and light indicators and written information. The Ministry should also adopt a regulation on minimum accessibility requirements for all goods and services for the implementation of the fifth paragraph of Article 8 of the EOPDA, since it also has an important impact on the elimination of obstacles to ensuring the accessibility of public facilities offering goods and services available to the public.

The Advocate recommended that the Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning and the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, prepares guidelines for adopting decisions in the process of obtaining cultural conservation consents as soon as possible, namely in such a way that the bodies and institutions that are obliged to ensure the adaptation of public facilities for people with disabilities will be able to implement these adaptations efficiently and in a financially sustainable manner.

At the same time, it was also recommended that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning prepares a draft amendment to the Construction Act as soon as possible, in such a way that it would include a final deadline for the mandatory appropriate adaptation of existing public facilities referred to in Article 38 of the EOPDA, and unequivocally determine the competence of inspectorates and the fines in the event of any violations.

The Advocate recommended to the Government to prepare an assessment of the necessary budgetary resources and a special investment plan in order to adapt public facilities for people with disabilities, thus eliminating discrimination. Furthermore, the Government should also provide the necessary earmarked budgetary resources for the implementation of those actions. An analysis of the possibility of drawing on European funds for the purpose of ensuring the accessibility of public facilities for people with disabilities should also be prepared and included in the investment plan.

The special report is available at https://zagovornik.si/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Posebno-porocilo-Nedostopnost-objektov-v-javni-rabi-za-ljudi-z-invalidnostmi-1.pdf.

According to the Building Act, a public building is a “building or part of a building, the use of which is intended for everyone under the same conditions”. Public buildings include non-residential buildings, which are catering buildings, office and administrative buildings, commercial buildings and buildings for service activities, transport buildings and buildings for the implementation of communications, buildings of general social interest, ceremonial buildings and other non-residential buildings, if intended for public use. The same category also includes public areas such as public roads, streets, squares, markets, playgrounds, parking lots, cemeteries, parks, lawns, and recreational areas. A more detailed list of public facilities can be found in the Decree on the classification of structures.

The Advocate therefore sent a query on accessibility to kindergartens, primary schools, institutions for children and adolescents, professional centres for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioural issues, secondary schools and dormitories, student dormitories, universities and higher professional schools, organizations for the education of the elderly, research institutions, hospitals, health centres, pharmacies, social work centres, maternity homes, safe houses, nursing homes, work centres, training centres, work and protection centres, libraries, museums, archives, municipalities, administrative units, police stations, prisons, courts, prosecutors’ offices, the Employment Service and its regional units, agricultural advisory services, and natural parks.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality made several recommendations on the draft Personal Assistance Act prepared by the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (MLFSAEO). The national equality body warns that the law must prevent and eliminate the negative effects of disability on the independent life of people with disabilities. The Advocate points out that the planned changes of the law would groundlessly and unjustifiably narrow the circle of beneficiaries of personal assistance, and also worsen the situation of persons with disabilities.

With the recommendations on the draft proposal of the Personal Assistance Act, the Advocate draws the attention of the competent Ministry to the fact that the reform of the law also eliminates some benefits of the existing law. The current law namely already takes into account the provisions of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the EU law in the field of ensuring equal opportunities for people with disabilities. By reintroducing the medical view on disability, the draft proposal of the MLFSAEO deviates from those provisions. In doing so, they fail to consider the fact that everyone should be treated as a person of equal value and with equal inherent dignity.

Due to this conceptual change, new conditions for acquiring the right to personal assistance have been introduced in the draft proposal. According to the new terms, the number of beneficiaries of these services is decreasing. All those who have become disabled due to an illness would now no longer have the possibility to make use of personal assistance services. The same also applies to those who need personal assistance due to temporary disability.

Therefore, the Advocate recommended that the MLFSAEO should not strengthen the conditions necessary for obtaining the right to personal assistance. It was stated that the key guideline for drafting the new law must be the awareness that personal assistance is intended to enable all people with disabilities to overcome the consequences of said disabilities and fully enjoy all human rights and freedoms. Moreover, it was recommended that the Ministry explains, in the draft law, how exactly the envisaged changes would affect the rights of new and existing beneficiaries of personal assistance. This is namely not currently the case in the draft proposal.

In the recommendations, the Advocate noted that the draft proposal still envisages that personal assistance may only be granted to persons under the age of 65. According to the Advocate, this is an example of age-related discrimination. The Advocate therefore recommended that the Ministry eliminates the upper age limit for obtaining the right to personal assistance from the draft proposal. Moreover, it was recommended that the Ministry properly regulates the situation of persons under the age of 18, so that children and adolescents would also have the right to personal assistance. The regulation from the currently applicable law stating that the age of 18 is the minimum age at which someone can apply for personal assistance has namely remained unchanged in the draft proposal.

The Advocate also pointed out that the Personal Assistance Act should provide for the possibility of using supportive decision-making so that people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities or temporary or permanent illnesses will also be able to claim personal assistance services. Even though they find it difficult to express their needs and desires, they also need personal assistance services. According to the Advocate, the revised law should also provide for inspection supervision and the possibility of legal action in the event of non-allocation or withdrawal of the right to personal assistance, or in cases where the quality of service would not be adequate.

During the regular annual meeting of Equinet, European Network of Equality Bodies, which took place yesterday, Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, was re-elected to the Executive Board of Equinet until 2025. As a member of the Executive Board, he will also actively participate in the decisions on the operation of this international organisation during his new term of office.

Equinet is an international organization connecting national equality bodies from 34 European countries. It seeks to strengthen the elimination of discrimination and promote equal treatment through cooperation with various international actors, in particular the European Commission, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Bodies of the Council of Europe (Commissioner for Human Rights, ECRI) and the United Nations. The network enables cooperation and sharing of positive practices between equality bodies, and contributes to the development of protection against discrimination.

The Executive Board of Equinet takes care of the direction and operation of the organisation and also supervises working groups in which representatives of all national institutions for protection against discrimination, such as the Slovenian Advocate of the Principle of Equality, operate. The Head of the Advocate, Miha Lobnik, was also a member of the Executive Board of Equinet during the 2019–2021 and 2021–2023 mandates.

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, said at the time of his re-election: “My reelection to the Executive Board of the European Association of Advocates of the Principle of Equality confirms that Slovenia’s progress in the field of protection against discrimination in Europe has not gone unnoticed in recent years. Our common challenges in the future are related to two upcoming new directives, which will be of key importance to consolidate the systematic work to reduce discrimination in Europe. Among other things, they will regulate the standards for the functioning of equality bodies, which provide them with conditions for their independence and guarantee sufficient means for their effective operation. This is still a challenge for Slovenia, where the draft budget proposed by the Government will not suffice for us to implement all of our obligations provided for by the law. At the same time, other important challenges also await us. Artificial intelligence can be a source of many inequalities, which is why constant monitoring will be required to ensure that the negative effects of robotic decision-making will not outweigh the positive.”

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality guarantees protection against discrimination to all residents of Slovenia. Due to their personal grounds of citizenship, nationality, race or ethnic origin and language, foreigners are also victims of discrimination. The Head of the Advocate, Miha Lobnik, and his colleagues presented the work and products of the Slovenian body for the promotion of equal treatment in 2022 to ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives of foreign countries in Slovenia. The participants of the reception were also addressed by Jerneja Jug Jerše, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Slovenia.

To strengthen the cooperation of the equality body at the international level, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality translated its Annual report into English this year as well. The report was communicated to the related bodies of other European countries and other European institutions working in the field of ensuring equal treatment and equal opportunities. During a special event, the Head of the Advocate, Miha Lobnik, and his colleagues also presented the work of the equality body to representatives of embassies in Slovenia. Immigrants were also among the victims of the identified cases of discrimination.

In the introduction, the Head of the Advocate, Miha Lobnik, presented the competences and the functioning of the equality body. Mateja Galič, an independent advisor to the Advocate, presented the activities of the Department for Discrimination Investigation, Advisory and Advocacy to the participants of the event. She noted that last year, the body offered counselling to 440 individuals. The consideration of 50 discrimination investigation procedures was completed, while discrimination was found in 14 of these cases. Moreover 29 assessments of the discriminativeness of regulations were conducted, and 9 of those regulations were found to be discriminative.

The work and products of the Department for Systemic Monitoring, Awareness-raising and Prevention of Discrimination were presented by Jelena Aleksić, Head of the Department. She noted that last year, the Advocate prepared an expert translation of a handbook on the European anti-discrimination law, as well as a leaflet on the inadmissibility of age-related discrimination. She highlighted the findings of a special report on the accessibility of secondary schools for persons with reduced mobility and the findings of a survey on the situation in the field of discrimination in Slovenia, which shows that discrimination is one of the major issues in Slovenia. She said that the Advocate made 81 recommendations to improve protection against discrimination, most of them on draft regulations.

During the event, the Head of the Advocate, Miha Lobnik, said that, despite the presented results, the government allocated significantly less funds for the activities implemented by the Advocate in its draft state budget, which was done both unilaterally and without providing any arguments. “Even before the floods hit Slovenia, the Advocate’s budget for 2024 and 2025 was reduced by 15%. Due to this catastrophe, the Advocate further reduced its budget for the next two years by 4%. With this proposal, the Advocate remains without any programme funding for the implementation of its tasks provided for by the law, which doesn’t bode well for protection against discrimination in Slovenia.”

The participants of the event were also addressed by Jerneja Jug Jerše, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Slovenia. She pointed out that ensuring equal treatment of people regardless of their personal grounds was the guiding principle of the European Commission. She expressed her satisfaction that Equinet, the European Network of Equality Bodies, an active part of which is also the Advocate, also supported the Commission in its efforts. She announced her support to the Advocate in ensuring the conditions for its operation, as the Advocate strives to achieve the same values as the Commission.

The event, which took place in Cankarjev dom in Ljubljana, was attended by ambassadors, deputy ambassadors and other representatives of the embassies of Austria, Albania, Bulgaria, France, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Poland, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland.

The Advocate’s Annual report in English is available at https://zagovornik.si/en/what-we-do/annual-reports/.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended to the Government to propose an amendment of all laws governing the right to vote. By amending the legislation, it should eliminate the possibility of revocation and the effects of previous judicial revocations of the right to vote for people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, thus ensuring the right to vote for all adult citizens. It was also recommended that the Government, through appropriate legislation, ensures that electoral procedures and materials are accessible and understandable for all voters. It should also provide people with mental health problems, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities or other forms of disability with the possibility of designating a person of their choice for supportive decision-making in elections.

In several recommendations, the Advocate drew the attention of the Government and of the legislator to the problem of disenfranchisement. In addition to the Advocate, the Council for Persons with Disabilities of the Republic of Slovenia and some other disability organizations, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and a number of important political representatives of the National Assembly, the National Council and some members of the European Parliament have already pointed out the need to abolish the possibility of disenfranchisement and give the right to vote back to the people who are now deprived of it.

Yet, the number of disenfranchisements is increasing. During the elections of the Members of the European Parliament in May 2019, 2,035 citizens were not allowed to vote. Such a number of citizens could have easily changed the outcome of the elections if allowed to vote. In February 2022, no less than 3,016 citizens were deprived of their right to vote.

The Advocate therefore recommends that the Government, as the body jointly responsible for respecting and protecting human rights, ensures that all persons with disabilities have the full right to vote on an equal basis with other citizens. The current regulation namely only allows for the disenfranchisement of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. It provides for the possibility of depriving them of their right to vote, based on an expert assessment of their ability to understand the purpose, meaning and impact of elections, while for other citizens the assessment of their abilities is not envisaged.

At the same time, the Advocate recommended that the Government takes other measures to ensure the accessibility of elections and provide support services to all people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. It is also necessary to ensure that they can actually exercise their right to vote.

An update of all electoral procedures and the provision of information in appropriate formats, languages, and technologies was therefore proposed. The Advocate stated that information must be accessible to all those who find it difficult to read, who find it difficult to learn, who are not well acquainted with the Slovenian language, or who have other temporary or permanent disabilities. In particular, attention was drawn to the needs of the deafblind.

The introduction of supportive decision-making in the electoral process was also recommended to ensure the right to information and to express one’s will. In such decision-making, the person with a disability retains their autonomy and independence, while receiving the support of a third party in order to better understand the context of their own decisions and to better express their wishes or needs, or to make it easier for other people to understand them.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality, Miha Lobnik, presented the work of the Advocate in 2022 and a special report on the state of accessibility of public inter-urban bus transport for people with reduced mobility to deputies who are also members of the National Assembly Committee for Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Disabilities.

Miha Lobnik told the Members of the National Assembly that, in 2022, the equality body provided counselling and legal aid to 440 people.

The equality body completed the consideration of 50 discrimination investigation procedures and found discrimination in 14 of these cases.

The Advocate found several cases of discrimination in cases of Christmas bonuses, where employees were disadvantaged due to their personal grounds of pregnancy, parenthood, and health status. Discrimination was also found in a case where the Roma were refused service by a waitress in a bar. The Advocate found discrimination against a job candidate, who was asked a question about family planning, which is prohibited under the Employment Relationships Act. Discrimination was also found in the treatment of a Cuban and Syrian citizen by financial institutions who refused to allow them to use their services due to their nationality. According to the Advocate, the media outlet who treated candidates from different political parties in parliamentary elections differently due to the personal grounds of religion was also acting in a discriminatory manner. The Advocate also found discrimination during the renovation of a railway station, where the new underpass which was built failed to allow unhindered access to people with reduced mobility.

Miha Lobnik also told the Members of the National Assembly that last year, the Advocate closed 29 cases in which the persons reporting discrimination pointed out discriminatory laws, and assessed 9 of those regulations as discriminatory.

According to the Advocate, one of the discriminatory laws is the National Assembly Election Act, as it enables the disenfranchisement of persons with certain disabilities. The Advocate further estimates that the Music Schools Act is discriminatory against children with special needs since it does not allow them to showcase their talents. The Pension and Disability Insurance Act is partially discriminatory in the part regulating the suspension of occupational health insurance and the care allowance for minors who depend on the assistance and care of other people due to their disabilities. In its opinion, the part of the Higher Education Act regulating the subsidisation of the accommodation of foreign students with a permanent residence in Slovenia and the part of the Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Act regulating the rights of people with mental health problems who are unable to work are also discriminatory. According to the Advocate, the Labour Market Regulating Act is discriminating against certain foreigners.

Regarding these regulations and draft laws, the Advocate issued 55 recommendations for the elimination or prevention of discrimination and the promotion of equal treatment, stated Miha Lobnik. All in all, the Advocate prepared 81 recommendations during this past year.

The Head of the Advocate also said that last year, in addition to the Annual report, the equality body also issued a Special Report on the Accessibility of Secondary Schools for Persons with Reduced Mobility. Four panel discussions were also prepared, namely on the position of persons with hearing impairments in the education system; on the accessibility of secondary schools for persons with reduced mobility; on the position of transgender people in medical and administrative procedures; and on the position of intersex people in medical procedures. Awareness on the protection against discrimination was also raised on the redesigned website, and two leaflets on the prevention of age-related discrimination were published.

During the meeting with the Labour Committee, Miha Lobnik also informed the deputies about the findings of the special report on the unavailability of public inter-urban bus transport for people with reduced mobility.

The data received by the Advocate during the preparation of the report clearly shows that the State does not comply with its legal obligations in the field of accessibility of public inter-urban bus passenger transport to persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Energy has said that concessionaires who perform regular passenger transport within the framework of the public utility service almost never use vehicles that are adapted to persons with sensory disabilities or reduced mobility. The Ministry also stated that, as it has not yet adopted any standards for adapting transport to said passengers, this was not a reason for the candidates to not be selected during tenders. Furthermore, the Ministry also failed to specify any requirements as to the number of adapted buses, nor the share of the vehicles in the entire fleet of each individual concessionaire that should be adapted. Based on a study conducted in cooperation with the Geodetic Institute and the National Council of Disability Organisations of Slovenia, it is envisaged to ensure the accessibility of inter-urban passenger transport with on-call transport, for which pilot projects are currently being prepared.

The Slovenian Paraplegic Association explained to the Advocate that its members have repeatedly noted their own negative experiences in the accessibility of public inter-urban bus transport due to the fact that infrastructure is either inaccessible to them or is not appropriately adapted. “Members are convinced that line buses are completely inaccessible to them, so they avoid even considering this option.” The Muscular Dystrophy Association of Slovenia deplores the lack of information when it comes to the accessibility of buses of inter-urban passenger transport providers.

Hence, the Advocate assessed that the current situation in the field of accessibility of public bus passenger transport is unacceptable from the perspective of protection against discrimination, stated Miha Lobnik. Persons with disabilities are still not guaranteed access to public transport at the level required by the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was ratified by Slovenia in 2008.

 

In one of the State institutions, a female jobseeker was asked, during her job interview, whether she had a family and any children. She reported discriminatory treatment to the Advocate of the Principle of Equality. In the procedure of discrimination investigation, the Advocate confirmed that the candidate was indeed asked a question about her family life, which is prohibited under Article 28 of the Employment Relationships Act. Asking such questions in the context of employment procedures constitutes discrimination based on the personal grounds of parenthood and family status.

The person filing the complaint told the Advocate that, during her job interview, the female Director of the institution and another female employee also asked her a question about her family status. According to her, the Director started asking questions that one is not allowed to ask during the recruitment process, by saying: “Do you have a family, any children? This affects work, sick leave, absences etc.” The candidate replied that she found those questions uncomfortable, that she was not used to discriminatory questions, and that she was perfectly capable of performing the work for which she applied. However, the Director still reiterated her question.

In the discrimination investigation procedure, the Director and the employee who conducted the employment interview essentially confirmed the allegations from the complaint of discrimination.

In the decision, the Advocate explained that, according to Article 28 of the Employment Relationships Act, it is absolutely forbidden to ask any information about family or marital status, pregnancy, family planning, or other information during a job interview if those questions are not directly related to the employment relationship in question.

The Director and the employee of the State institution explained to the Advocate that the question about children and family was not asked for the purpose of verifying the fulfilment of employment conditions. This means, however, that the question was not directly related to the employment relationship, as it should have been in order for the Advocate to be able to conclude that the Director had the right to ask said question.

The Advocate therefore found discrimination based on the personal grounds of parenthood and family status. According to the Protection against Discrimination Act, equal treatment is also ensured in employment and work, regardless of personal grounds.

The Advocate carried out an ex officio discrimination investigation in which the allegations that the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants treats Ukrainian refugees better than refugees from other countries were examined. It was found that the different treatment they receive is mainly due to the difference in their legal statuses and some objective circumstances, and is not due to the different nationalities or ethnic origins of refugees. As a result, no discrimination was found.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality received a question from a journalist who used the case of two letters received from asylum seekers to inquire whether the unequal treatment of different refugee groups constitutes discrimination on the basis of nationality and race or ethnic origin.

The letters, which were also attached to the journalist’s question, stated that, in the case of Ukrainian refugees, Slovenia has made it clear that housing conditions and opportunities for refugee integration can also be better than those of other refugees.

In both letters, the asylum seekers expressed deep solidarity with refugees from Ukraine but stated that, when it comes to refugees from Ukraine, Slovenia managed to quickly prepare separate reception rooms, new beds, new mattresses, and excellent food; on the other hand, the accommodation center on Kotnikova ulica in Ljubljana, where refugees from the Middle East and Africa are mostly accommodated, has old and broken furniture, beds filled with bedbugs, and small, tasteless meals, served on plastic plates with disposable utensils.

The letters also state that Ukrainian refugees can get immediate access to a work permit and that they can also live outside of asylum centres. The authors of the letters stated that they did not understand why the experience in the asylum system for other refugees was so different. They drew attention to problematic living conditions, the long wait for answers to requests, and difficult access to adequate health care, adequate legal representation, bank accounts etc. They stated that, in addition, the long-standing request of asylum seekers to be allowed to work while their applications were being reviewed was still not realised, while Ukrainian refugees were able to quickly integrate into the labour market.

Due to these allegations, the Advocate initiated discrimination investigation proceedings and asked the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants to provide explanations. He also asked the Ministry of the Interior and the non-governmental organisations Slovene Philanthropy, the Legal Center for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, and “Ambasada Rog”, organisations active in the field of protection of refugee rights, to provide more information on the factual situation. The Advocate also examined the sectoral legal regulation.

Based on all the information, the Advocate concluded that refugees from Ukraine and other countries are mainly treated differently due to their legal status. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the citizens of Ukraine acquired the right to apply for temporary protection status in other countries, including Slovenia, through the adoption of the relevant legal basis at the level of the European Union. The mere fact that they come from Ukraine is enough for them to be granted this status. Refugees from other countries can only apply for international protection status, which is only granted to them after an individual assessment has been performed of whether they are really unsafe in their home country. Due to this, applicants for temporary protection may be granted the requested status relatively quickly since it is possible to quickly verify whether they are really citizens of Ukraine. Applicants for international protection, however, must wait for the decision of the competent authorities anywhere from six months to two years, since an examination of the circumstances of each individual’s flight from their country of origin takes longer. A part of the different treatment of refugees in Slovenia, as described in the two letters sent by asylum seekers, is therefore not based on the nationality, race, or ethnic origin of refugees, but on a different legal basis used in granting appropriate refugee status on the basis of European directives. The same applies to different arrangements regarding their movement across the country.

When it comes to the allegations that the facilities housing refugees from Ukraine are more pleasant to stay in and that the food there is better, the Advocate considered the explanation of the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants that it had to quickly respond to the upcoming large number of refugees from Ukraine and prepare new accommodation facilities, as the existing ones were not sufficient any more. The Office also demonstrated to the Advocate that they have also carried out the necessary work and activities to ensure adequate living conditions in older accommodation units for refugees. He also stated that food providers in different locations are selected through tenders with the same content, meaning that they provide comparable food. Therefore, the Advocate did not find discrimination in these allegations and did not confirm the allegation that refugees who do not come from Ukraine have worse housing conditions due to this personal ground.

The Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, Miha Lobnik, met with representatives of non-governmental organizations that advocate for equal treatment of LGBTIQ persons.

Representatives of the organisations Legebitra and Ljubljana Pride, the TransAkcija Institute and Amnesty International Slovenia pointed to a significantly increased level of negative attitude towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people. As an example, they cited harassment and violence experienced during this year’s Pride Parade, and the Advocate was also informed about other cases of physical and verbal violence against LGBTIQ persons.

The participants of the meeting mainly talked about the participation of non-governmental organisations in the preparation of the national strategic plan for the equality of LGBTIQ persons, which has currently not yet been adopted in Slovenia.

Miha Lobnik said that the Advocate has repeatedly recommended that the government prepares a strategic plan to ensure equal treatment of the LGBTIQ community as soon as possible, as well as strategic plans to achieve gender equality, to prevent racism and to prevent anti-Semitism. These plans are the basis for designing measures and policies that will be in accordance with the guidelines of the European Commission in the field of protection against discrimination.

The European Commission has adopted six key strategic documents to ensure the equality and equal status of social groups with a certain personal ground, which should serve the Member States of the European Union in the preparation of their national strategic plans. So far, Slovenia has only prepared strategic plans for the Roma people and for persons with disabilities.

The Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, Miha Lobnik, presented the work of the Advocate in 2022 to the Minister of Education dr. Darjo Felda. During the working meeting, they focused on some examples of identified discrimination and on the progress in ensuring the accessibility of education for pupils and students with sensory disabilities or reduced mobility.

The Head of the Advocate, Miha Lobnik, briefly presented the development and the powers of the body established to ensure protection against discrimination and equal treatment to Minister Felda. He told the Minister that last year, the Advocate provided counselling due to alleged discrimination to 440 people. The Advocate found discrimination in 14 of approximately 50 completed discrimination proceedings. He also carried out several assessments of the regulations, of which 9 were assessed as giving rise to discriminatory treatment. The Advocate made several recommendations to eliminate or prevent discrimination.

Among other things, it was recommended that the Ministry of Education amends the Music Schools Act in order for it to allow the introduction of adjustment for children with special needs when they are taking their entrance exams. As explained, introducing such adjustments would only allow those children to get to the same level as their peers without disabilities, which would further allow them to truly show their musical talent. During the meeting, Minister Felda said that the Pedagogical Institute would present the analysis of the situation in the fall, and that the Ministry will consider the findings from the analysis when preparing the draft amendment of the law.

In 2022, the Advocate also prepared a special report on the accessibility of secondary schools for students with reduced mobility and concluded that this was a major problem. Therefore, it was recommended that the Ministry takes action and ensures the accessibility of secondary schools as provided for in the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act. According to the Minister, they have already started working on it, which is why elevators are currently being built in four secondary schools, while 14 of them will provide accessibility for persons with sensory disabilities or reduced mobility.

Regarding the identified discrimination against a pupil with reading difficulties who was not allowed to use appropriate reading aids by the National Final Exam Commission, the Minister said that the Rules on the general maturity examination would be susceptible to change once the experts in the pedagogical profession have expressed their opinion. Miha Lobnik also pointed out to the Minister that this was a question of reasonable accommodation under the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act, and not a question for the experts in the medical profession.

The Head of the Advocate and the Minister also talked about the Ministry’s measures to reduce absenteeism in children of Roma origin, which is one of the measures of the National Programme of Measures for Roma for the period 2021–2030.

At the end of 2022, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality found, through an extensive survey and calls made to family medicine clinics, that a large number of said clinics does not provide all legally prescribed options for obtaining an appointment, i.e. in person (at the clinic), by phone, by mail or electronically. The Advocate notified the Health Inspectorate of this issue and called upon the Inspectorate to act in this matter. In the supervision carried out by the Inspectorate in the clinics of 49 health care providers, the Inspectorate found that no less than 78% of providers do not allow their patients to obtain an appointment in accordance with the law, meaning that they are therefore restricting their access to health care services. The Inspectorate issued several warnings and instructions to correct those irregularities and announced that a follow-up inspection would be implemented.

At the end of last year, citizens turned to the Advocate of the Principle of Equality to report issues in obtaining appointments for examinations in family medicine clinics. They informed the Advocate that, when the electronic method of obtaining appointments was introduced, other legally prescribed possibilities of communicating with one’s personal physician were reduced. People with fewer digital skills, especially the elderly, people without access to the Internet or mobile applications, and acutely ill people, noted that it was very difficult for them to reach their doctor by phone and in person.

The Advocate therefore verified the accessibility of family doctors’ clinics in health centres and with contractual practitioners. It was noted that a large number of clinics failed to follow the legal rules on the possible methods for obtaining an appointment. In some clinics, for example, the possibility of obtaining an appointment by phone was not enabled at all times during the opening hours of the clinic, but could only be used for a couple of hours a day. The information about the methods of obtaining an appointment provided by answering machines were incomplete or were provided too quickly for the patients to write them down or memorise them. Some clinics did not have answering machines or only had answering machines with incomplete or outdated information. Others did not enable the possibility of obtaining an appointment by mail and in person (i.e. by visiting the clinic). Notices on the websites of said clinics were also often inadequate.

Based on the aforementioned findings, the Advocate estimated that some vulnerable groups are at a disadvantage when it comes to obtaining an appointment with their personal doctor. The elderly, people with disabilities, people who find it difficult to speak Slovenian, and people with serious health conditions have difficulties in accessing health care, as they cannot use new communication technologies, do not know how to use them, or are unable to use them.

At that time, the Advocate informed the Ministry of Health about its findings and issued several recommendations for the elimination of irregularities which can be found at https://zagovornik.si/izdelki/priporocilo-zagovornika-nacela-enakosti-glede-komunikacijske-dostopnosti-ambulant-druzinske-medicine/ (in slovene). It was also suggested that the Health Inspectorate carries out an investigation.

In doing so, the Health Inspectorate informed the Advocate that no less than 78% of all clinics under review failed to provide their patients with accessibility as provided for under the Patients’ Rights Act and the Rules on the Referral of Patients, the Management of Waiting Lists, and the Maximum Permissible Waiting Times. Therefore, the Advocate issued several reminders and instructions on the elimination of irregularities, and announced that a follow-up investigation would be performed.

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality: “The findings of the Health Inspectorate confirm that many people, including vulnerable people, have great difficulties in accessing their personal doctor. It is unacceptable that people who are sick often cannot get to a doctor directly. I expect the Ministry of Health to be more attentive in this area and to ensure that all providers comply with legal provisions and allow patients unhindered access to health services. The Advocate will continue to closely monitor developments in this area.”

The Advocate of the Principles of Equality recommended several amendments to the Ministry of Public Administration, which is preparing amendments to the Public Employees Act (PEA), in order to have the revised law more comprehensively include the right to protection against discrimination. It was pointed out that some of the provisions in the draft proposal could be discriminatory, while others need supplementation in terms of ensuring equal treatment and equal opportunities regardless of the personal grounds of public employees and candidates for employment in the public administration.

In the recommendations, the Advocate pointed out that the proposed regulation by which the employment contracts of public employees are terminated once they meet the conditions for acquiring the right to receive a retirement pension could be considered discriminatory. This arrangement is namely only based on the criterion of age. The decision of the Constitutional Court regarding the regulation of one of the laws on intervention measures intended to help mitigate the consequences of the second wave of the COVID-19 epidemic which allowed employees to retire under the conditions now envisaged in the draft proposal of the PEA stated that such an arrangement was unconstitutional.

The Advocate further explained that citizens of other European Union countries must also have equal opportunities to apply for job vacancies in Slovenia, including clerical positions. Therefore, the Advocate recommended that the Ministry eliminates the condition that candidates for a job vacancy in public administration must be Slovenian citizens, since such a requirement could constitute discrimination on the basis of the personal ground of citizenship. As stated in the recommendation, such a condition for occupying the workplace cannot be introduced just like that, but must be justified in a non-discriminatory manner.

The draft law also provides for exceptions in meeting the criterion of education and seniority so that public employees, despite the introduction of stricter conditions for occupying the positions they currently hold, could continue to work in the same position. Thus, it is stipulated that employees who have at least 25 years of work experience may continue to work in the public sector in a job for which they do not meet the condition for the required education. Such and similar exceptions are determined on the basis of the personal grounds of public employees, meaning that the draftsman of the law should explain the reasons for which such a discriminatory criterion should be considered an exception to the prohibition of discrimination.

In his recommendations, the Advocate advised the Ministry to consider, in its proposal of the PEA, that discrimination investigation takes a certain time, and therefore extend the deadlines for exercising rights, for example when it comes to complaints filed with the employer and before the administrative and labour court. However, the law should also explicitly state that an appeal of candidates related to vacancy notices may also be filed due to suspicion of discriminatory treatment. He also recommended that compensation for discrimination should not be regulated on a flat-rate basis, and that the exercise of the right to compensation should not exclude the possibility of claiming compensation for discrimination under the Protection against Discrimination Act.

In the recommendations, the Advocate also called on the draftsmen to pay more attention to the needs of people with different disabilities and to respond to them accordingly. It was therefore proposed that the law should provide for the possibility of supplementing the applications of job candidates in such a way to also ensure equal opportunities for those who cannot use information and communication technologies or find it difficult to do so due to their personal grounds. The Advocate also pointed out that equal treatment of everyone can sometimes be discriminatory, as some need tailored treatment due to their personal grounds in order to be on the same level with others. Therefore, it was recommended that instead of the “principle of equal access”, one of the principles of the amended law should be the “principle of equality”, in order to emphasize that reasonable adjustments of the employment or work process are also necessary in jobs and workplaces.

The Advocate also recommended that the Ministry provides a legal basis for the systematic collection of disaggregated data on the personal grounds of public employees in the revised PEA. The Advocate stated that data on gender, age, parenthood, health status or sick leave, disability, citizenship, and education should be collected, while data on nationality, religion and sexual orientation should only be collected with the consent of employees. Thus, by analysing these data, it would be possible to more reasonably assess whether certain groups of employees are treated worse than other groups who do not have the same personal grounds.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended that the Members of the National Assembly should supplement the draft amendment to the Mental Health Act (MHA) in such a way that the treatment of persons with mental health problems will also be fully aligned with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Advocate’s recommendations are mainly related to the principle of the capacity to make decisions about oneself.

In the recommendations to the MHA amendment proposal, the Advocate pointed out that people with mental health problems also have the right to make their own decisions. It was pointed out that the proposed amendments to the law were adhered insufficiently.

The Advocate therefore recommended that the Members of the National Assembly should regulate the principle of the capacity to make decisions about oneself in the MHA in such a way that the said capacity would no longer depend on the person being placed under guardianship or having a legal representative. It was emphasised that the capacity to make decisions about oneself should always be determined on a case-by-case basis, and that denying this capacity in advance was unacceptable.

In particular, it was recommended that the revised law should stipulate that the procedure for determining the capacity to make decisions about oneself and about any medical treatment will also include supportive decision-making, the right to make statement, and the active possibility of a person’s participation in the procedures. Providers of mental health services and programmes should undertake to regularly check the decision-making capacity of those patients whose capacity to make decisions about themselves was limited at the beginning of their treatment. The goal of this provision would be for those patients to regain the said capacity, which can either come back on its own or due to treatment. The Advocate also recommended that the law should encourage individuals to appoint their health care proxy in advance. In the event of mental health problems and any issues when it comes to expressing their own will, the said health care proxy would make decisions about treatment methods in accordance with their mandate or, in exceptional cases, in place of the patient in question.

The Advocate recommended to the Members of the National Assembly that they should also make use of the MHA to regulate a comprehensive system of supportive decision-making for people with mental health problems, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, or other forms of disability. In supportive decision-making, the person with a disability retains full autonomy and independence, while receiving the support of a third party in order to better understand the context of their own decisions and to better express their wishes, needs, and will, or to make it easier for other people to understand them.

The Advocate also said that one of the goals of the MHA must also be to insure that people with mental health problems remain well informed. For this, it is crucial to ensure the availability of information in appropriate languages, formats, and technologies, including the so-called easy reading. This means that people with mental health problems are allowed to fully exercise their right to make informed decisions about themselves. It was pointed out that the inaccessibility of information can in itself constitute discrimination in terms of the Protection against Discrimination Act and the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended that the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation (MHESI) further defines this area in a rulebook which will, for the first time, regulate the procedures and the manner of exercising the rights of students with special needs in more detail. This will make tertiary education more inclusive for the most vulnerable students. The Advocate also recommended the establishment of a uniform procedure for determining the status of students with special needs according to the type and degree of their disability, in order to achieve equal treatment of all students in comparable situations.

With its recommendations, the Advocate responded to the proposal for the Rules on the procedures and method of exercising the rights of students with special needs and special status in higher education, which is currently under public hearing.

When the Rules are adopted, students with disabilities should also be provided with inclusive tertiary education and appropriate conditions for a successful completion of their studies, as provided for in Article 69.a of the Higher Education Act. According to the said Act, students with special needs have the right to more favourable treatment in the selection procedure in case of any restrictions of enrolment, as well as the right to benefit from an adapted implementation of their study programs.

As stipulated in the aforementioned article of the Act, the manner of exercising these rights should be more specifically regulated by the Rules adopted by the Minister responsible for higher education. The adoption of such Rules is also envisaged because the conditions for obtaining the special status of a student and the rights arising from the said special status are determined by individual higher education institutions using their own statutes and other acts. The lack of uniform regulation, however, causes a situation in which the same student with a particular disability may be entitled to benefit from a special status at one institution while this is not the case at another institution.

In May 2021, the Advocate recommended that the Ministry adopts these Rules in order to ensure equal treatment of deaf students. In his current recommendations, however, the Advocate noted that the proposed Rules are too general in terms of content.

In order to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of students with disabilities, it was recommended that the Rules clearly define all key concepts, such as what are appropriate adjustments, who will be responsible for introducing the said adjustments and providing aids and interpreters, etc.

According to the Advocate’s assessment, the Rules should specify, inter alia, the procedures for obtaining the status of a student with special needs, including the indication of the criteria and relevant evidence in decision-making, as well as the possibilities and methods of action regarding decisions in procedures and in cases where educational institutions or individual lecturers would refuse to implement certain recognised adjustments.

The Advocate also pointed out that under the current legal regulation, students with disabilities may acquire different statuses when exercising different rights, since those rights are regulated with different laws and other regulations. Therefore, the Advocate recommended the establishment of a uniform procedure for determining the actual status of students with special needs according to the type and degree of their disability or limitation, in order to achieve equal treatment of all students in comparable situations.

The Advocate found discrimination in a case where a gynaecologist refused further medical treatment to a homosexual patient. Her actions were based on a conscientious objection since she only denied the provision of all her services to homosexual patients who were undergoing the process of in vitro fertilisation.

The Advocate was approached by a homosexual patient who was, at that time, undergoing the process of IVF in Austria where the equal treatment of heterosexual and homosexual couples in the process of accessing this health service is ensconced in law. She reported having been allegedly discriminated against by the gynaecologist she chose in Slovenia who refused to provide her with further medical treatment because she was a homosexual individual undergoing the process of IVF. She stated that the gynaecologist had filed a conscientious objection with the Medical Chamber of Slovenia regarding the provision of all gynaecological health services for women who found themselves in the same position as the individual in question.

In the discrimination investigation procedure, the Advocate received an explanation from the Medical Chamber of Slovenia and the Legal and Ethical Issues Committee stating that such a conscientious objection is unacceptable because it is discriminatory. A conscientious objection may namely only be raised regarding certain medical procedures, but cannot be relied on in order to refuse certain procedures to a certain group of people with a certain personal ground, as was the case here.

The gynaecologist explained to the Advocate that she was convinced that her conscientious objection was appropriate. She said that she only received the decisions of the competent committee of the Medical Chamber on the discriminatory nature of the objection after she had already refused further treatment of the patient. However, she withdrew her conscientious objection after receiving said response from the Chamber.

In his decision, the Advocate explained that what matters in the investigation of discrimination is the impact of a particular conduct, and not whether someone had the intention to behave in a discriminatory manner or not. However, discrimination was found in this case because the gynaecologist treated the complainant less favourably than her other patients solely due to her sexual orientation, and also deprived her of her right to health care.

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality: “The right to health care is an important part of human rights and a constitutional value. Denying medical treatment only to homosexual patients who are currently undergoing IVF is unacceptable. Health care must be accessible to everyone, regardless of their personal grounds such as gender and sexual orientation.”

The Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, Miha Lobnik, presented the work of the Advocate in 2022 to Luka Mesec, Minister of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. During their conversation, they devoted special attention to the topics and the field of work of the Ministry.

Miha Lobnik told the Minister Luka Mesec that, in 2022, the Advocate provided counselling due to alleged discrimination to 440 people. The Advocate found discrimination in 14 of the 50 completed discrimination proceedings. He also carried out several assessments of the regulations, of which 9 were assessed as giving rise to discriminatory treatment. The Advocate furthermore made several recommendations to eliminate or prevent discrimination. These include recommendations aimed at proposed laws and other regulations under the jurisdiction of the MLFSAEO.

Among other things, the Advocate recommended that the Ministry prepares an amendment to the Pension and Disability Insurance Act when it comes to determining the suspension of professional insurance. According to the Advocate, those provisions discriminate against employees who perform jobs that cannot be successfully and professionally performed after a certain age. During the meeting, Minister Luka Mesec stated that the Ministry had started preparing a reform of the pension and disability insurance scheme, whereby the recommendations of the Advocate would also be taken under advisement.

Minister Mesec also said that the MLFSAEO agreed with the Advocate’s assessment of the discriminativeness of the Labour Market Regulation Act in the part that determines the conditions for immigrants to remain in the register of unemployed persons. For citizens of the European Union and some other countries, there is no time limit for fulfilling these conditions, while for third-country nationals, such a time limit exists, and the distinction is only based on the personal ground of citizenship. The Minister said that the adoption of amendments is scheduled to take place this year.

By amending the legislation, the MLFSAEO will also eliminate the different treatment of minors who, due to their disabilities, depend on the care and assistance of other people, when it comes to allocating the right to assistance and service allowance, announced Luka Mesec. The Pension and Disability Insurance Act now only grants assistance and service allowance to blind and visually impaired children and adolescents up to the age of 18, while other children and adolescents with special needs who also depend on the assistance of others and who have similar or even greater problems are not entitled to it which, according to the Advocate, is discriminatory. The Minister assured Miha Lobnik that these allowances would be regulated anew in the Parental Protection and Family Benefits Act.

Miha Lobnik and Minister Luka Mesec also talked about the fact that persons with mental illnesses who are unable to work are not entitled to disability benefits just because they cannot be granted the status of a disabled person under the Social Inclusion of Disabled Persons Act. The Advocate namely assessed such an arrangement as being discriminatory. Minister Mesec said that, due to this assessment and further recommendations provided by the Advocate, the Ministry appointed a working group that will start with its work in the fall.

Once again, Miha Lobnik reminded the Minister that rules on minimum requirements for accessibility of goods and services available to the public should be adopted as soon as possible. The fact that these rules still do not exist has a significant impact on the exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities which are otherwise defined by the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act.

The Advocate welcomed the announcement of State Secretary Dan Juvan who noted, during the Friday session of the Commission on Petitions, Human Rights and Equal Opportunities of the National Assembly, that the Ministry would follow the recommendation of the European Commission and prepare a national plan of measures in the field of LGBTIQ rights in Slovenia. Today, Slovenia is one of the few Member States of the EU that does not yet have such a plan.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality found that a Moroccan citizen who is married to a citizen of Slovenia was a victim of discrimination in proceedings carried out by the Administrative Unit of Ljubljana. An employee of the Administrative Unit refused to accept his application for a residence permit which he filed as a family member of a Slovenian citizen, while another employee failed to issue him with a certificate of receipt of the application for a permit which he sent by mail.

The Advocate received a complaint alleging discrimination against a Moroccan citizen married to a citizen of Slovenia in proceedings carried out by an Administrative Unit. The applicant stated that the spouses brought all necessary documents for submitting an application for the residence permit of said Moroccan citizen as a family member of the citizen of Slovenia, whereby the two were, in this case, husband and wife. The employee refused to accept the application since she believed that their marriage was fictitious. After that, the documents were sent to the Administrative Unit on their behalf by a lawyer who also requested the issuance of a certificate of the application which has been filed.

After the visit at the Administrative Unit, the Moroccan citizen was stopped by the police who requested him to identify himself. He showed them his ID and marriage certificate and told them that he had applied for a permit to reside with his wife through a lawyer. As he did not yet have any confirmation on the receipt of this application, he was threatened with deportation. He applied for asylum again, causing him to be placed in an asylum centre. The condition for his release was the aforementioned certificate on the submitted application for the permit to reside with his wife, which he should have received from the Administration Unit. Later, he was released and free to go home after all.

In the proceedings, the Advocate found that, in the case in question, no less than two employees of the Administrative Unit were behaving in a discriminatory manner.

The first employee should have accepted the spouses’ application but refused to do so since she believed that they only got married in order to allow for the Moroccan citizen to live in Slovenia. However, she refused to initiate the marriage authentication procedure envisaged in this case.

The second employee expected the Moroccan citizen to provide proof of legal entry into the country, as is the case for other foreigners, in order to receive the requested certificate, even though she should have taken into consideration that he was a family member of the Slovenian citizen, which is why she should have treated him differently from other foreigners that do not have a certificate of legal entry into Slovenia. According to the Advocate, this was due to her misunderstanding of the instructions of the Ministry of the Interior sent to Administrative units in 2009, which refers to an important judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union. At the initiative of the Advocate issued in March 2023, the Ministry amended said instruction which now clearly states that all family members of EU citizens enjoy the right to freely move and reside within the territory of the EU Member States, regardless of how they entered any of said states.

The Advocate therefore found that, by refusing to accept the application and then delaying the issuance of the certificate of the application, the two employees of the Administrative Unit discriminated against the Moroccan citizen and his wife, only on the basis of his special position as a foreign citizen. This interfered with the Moroccan citizen’s right to freedom of movement, as well as with the spouses’ human right to respect for their family life and the right to enjoy privacy.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended to the Members of the National Assembly that the Act Amending the Health Care and Health Insurance Act (AAHCHIA) should set out a progressive health care contribution based on the amount of the taxpayers’ income. The flat-rate contribution namely poses a risk of indirect discrimination on the basis of the personal ground of property status.

In his recommendation, the Advocate warned the Members of the National Assembly that the envisaged solution of introducing a mandatory flat-rate health care contribution poses a risk of indirect discrimination based on the personal ground of property status. People with weak financial situations, i.e. retirees with the lowest pensions, would namely be more affected by this seemingly neutral provision.

The Advocate therefore recommends that the mandatory health care contribution be designed at proportional rates, as this is the case for mandatory health insurance contribution in the currently applicable Health Care and Health Insurance Act (HCHIA).

The Advocate also recommends supplementing the Act by including the parents of children who need special care and protection due to their health condition and disability, as well as beneficiaries of parental allowance whose employment relationship has been terminated during their parental leave, in the category of insured persons who are not obliged to pay the mandatory health care contribution since the State pays the said mandatory health care contribution for them.

The Advocate also drew attention to the provisions of the law which are controversial from the point of view of protection against discrimination, namely the provisions related to the amendments of the general acts of the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia (HIIS). The Advocate pointed out that the rights arising from compulsory health insurance should be set out in the law and not in by-laws, such as the general acts of the HIIS.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality made a recommendation to the Members of the National Assembly on how to improve some amendments of the Long Term Care Act. Among other things, he also emphasised that respect for the right to make independent decisions about oneself and independent living is crucial when it comes to the right to long-term care. This is particularly important for people with mental health problems and persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.

In a recommendation on the draft of the law governing the field of long-term care, the Advocate urged that the right of independent decision-making and an independent life should be respected when it comes to exercising the rights to long-term care and the rights stemming from long-term care, as well as preparing long-term care services.

The Advocate also recommended that rights to individual long-term care services be defined more clearly. This should be achieved by having the law clearly define the long-term care services which are provided, their content, and the method of their implementation.

The Advocate pointed out that each person must be able to make their own decisions when exercising their right to long-term care. In doing so, they should be provided with all available support (supportive decision-making), if necessary. This also applies to persons under guardianship or to those who have a legal representative due to their impaired ability to make decisions about themselves. The Advocate also recommended that the law should include an obligation to regularly examine the said ability for each individual person, with the purpose of not having a person incapacitated for life.

Furthermore, the Advocate also recommended that the law should define the methods in which an individual can make decisions on their long-term care independently and in advance, including by appointing a proxy. Independent decision-making in long-term care namely reduces the possibility of abuse which cannot always be prevented, even when it comes to family relationships.

The Advocate also recommended that the law should set out the obligation of notifying people about their rights related to long-term care according to the principles of accessibility. This means that they should be notified of it in appropriate languages, formats, and technologies, including information which can be easily understood. This is the only way to ensure the right to a full and equal exercise of all rights, including the right to an independent life in the frame of long-term care. Inaccessibility of information can namely cause discrimination when it comes to accessing and exercising the rights stemming from long-term care.

The Advocate also recommended that the law should regulate the details of legal protection if the dependant believes that their long-term care services are not performed at a suitable level in terms of quality or that their rights are being violated.

The equality body also recommended regulating the situation of children who do not have the status of long-term care dependants and who are in a situation comparable to that of long-term care beneficiaries.

The Advocate also recommended that the requirement stating that the caregiver of a family member must demonstrate operational capacity be deleted from the draft act since it is no longer possible to incapacitate a person, i.e. deprive them of their operational capacity, after the introduction of the new Family Code (FC) and the Non-Contentious Civil Procedure Act (NCCPA). In 2018, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, also warned Slovenia that deprivation of operational capacity due to disability is not permissible.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality found that the National Final Exam Commission of the National Examination Centre acted in a discriminatory manner by failing to approve that a pupil with confirmed reading difficulties may use a simple tool that would merely put her on the same level as all other pupils when taking her final exams in order to demonstrate her knowledge. The Commission was therefore acting in a discriminatory manner toward the pupil on the basis of her personal ground of health status.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality was approached by the parents of the said pupil, who, due to her health condition, also finds it difficult to read dark letters on white paper or on a white background. In this regard, the pupil already had a guidance decision issued when she was still in elementary school; throughout her entire secondary education, she regularly used blue transparent foil as a teaching aid, which enabled her to read all the materials in a concentrated manner and successfully pass her tests. In the complaint of discrimination, the parents claimed that their daughter was discriminated against by the National Examination Centre which did not allow her to also use said foil when taking the baccalaureate exam.

In the discrimination investigation procedure, the National Final Exam Commission of the National Examination Centre explained to the Advocate that the health issues that the pupil allegedly had was not recognised by official medicine, meaning that they were therefore not allowed to permit her to use a specific device that would help her read, or to enable her to take her exam on blue exam papers. The Commission stated that, by introducing such adjustments, the pupil in question would have enjoyed a privileged position compared to other pupils, which would be illegal. They also added that they did not introduce the said adjustments, even though it would not have been particularly difficult to do so. The pupil was, however, allowed to use a marker during her exam in order to mark the entire text on her exam papers in blue, which would allow her to read it without any issues, since such an adjustment was still in accordance with the Rules on the general maturity examination.

During his examination of the case, the Advocate found that, by not being able to use the appropriate adjustment in the form of foil when taking the exam, the pupil was prevented from being treated in the same manner as her peers who did not need such an adjustment. The said adjustment would namely only allow her to be able to do what other pupils can already do, i.e. read the exam papers despite her health condition. The Advocate pointed out that the Commission should also act in accordance with the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act, which mandates such appropriate adjustments. It was further explained that discrimination is also present in a situation where all people are being treated equally, even though some of them should be treated differently due to their personal grounds, which would merely allow them to benefit from equal opportunities.

Therefore, the Advocate found that, by pursuing an otherwise legitimate goal to have all pupils taking their final exams be in the same position, the National Final Exam Commission was acting in a discriminatory manner towards the pupil in the case at hand, by refusing to make appropriate adjustments for her to be able to take the final exam, even though this would not have caused an excessive burden on the Commission, and even though it should have made the appropriate adjustments due to the health condition of the said pupil.

Upon this finding of discrimination, the Advocate recommended to the Ministry of Education and to the National Examination Centre to enable students with special needs to use blue foil when taking their final written exams, if they need it due to their health condition or disability status. The Advocate stated that, according to the Rules on the method of conducting matura examinations, the possibility of using a marker is already foreseen, which should be interpreted in such a way that using transparent colour foils would also be allowed.

December 2020 marked the end of the legal deadline by which buses in public inter-urban passenger transport should be made accessible to persons with sensory disability or reduced mobility. Based on the information provided by the competent Ministry and regional NGOs, the Advocate found that this has not been achieved. Therefore, the Advocate issued several recommendations to the Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Energy in order to make buses accessible for persons with disabilities.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality prepared a special report on the unavailability of public inter-urban bus passenger transport for persons with sensory disability or reduced mobility. For the purposes of this report, the Advocate made inquiries with the competent Ministry and organisations that represent persons with disabilities. The deadline to ensure the accessibility of this form of transportation expired on 11 December 2020. This deadline has been set in the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act, according to which regular road transport of passengers managed by the State should be provided by buses that are accessible to persons with sensory disabilities and reduced mobility. In addition, contractors must also provide information on the possibility of using transport in formats that are also suitably tailored to the needs of these persons.

The data received by the Advocate during the preparation of the report clearly shows that the State does not comply with its legal obligations in the field of accessibility of public inter-urban bus passenger transport to persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Energy has said that concessionaires who perform regular passenger transport within the framework of the public utility service almost never use vehicles that are adapted to persons with sensory disabilities or reduced mobility. The Ministry also stated that, as it has not yet adopted any standards for adapting transport to said passengers, this was not a reason for the candidates to not be selected during tenders. Furthermore, the Ministry also failed to specify any requirements as to the number of adapted buses, nor the share of the vehicles in the entire fleet of each individual concessionaire that should be adapted. Based on a study conducted in cooperation with the Geodetic Institute and the National Council of Disability Organisations of Slovenia, it is envisaged to ensure the accessibility of inter-urban passenger transport with on-call transport, for which pilot projects are currently being prepared.

The Slovenian Paraplegic Association explained to the Advocate that its members have repeatedly noted their own negative experiences in the accessibility of public inter-urban bus transport due to the fact that infrastructure is either inaccessible to them or is not appropriately adapted. “Members are convinced that line buses are completely inaccessible to them, so they avoid even considering this option.” The Muscular Dystrophy Association of Slovenia deplores the lack of information when it comes to the accessibility of buses of inter-urban passenger transport providers.

Hence, the Advocate assessed that the current situation in the field of accessibility of public bus passenger transport is unacceptable from the perspective of protection against discrimination. Persons with disabilities are still not guaranteed access to public transport at the level required by the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was ratified by Slovenia in 2008.

The Advocate therefore recommended to the Ministry to adopt, as soon as possible, the minimum standards and criteria regarding the accessibility of buses for persons with sensory disability or reduced mobility. The Ministry should also determine the necessary adaptations to be implemented in buses, as well as the share of the buses adapted to persons with disabilities that each individual concessionaire should have in order to comply with the requirement set out in the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act. In addition, the Advocate also recommended that the Ministry should establish a system of verification of compliance with legal requirements, as well as provide additional financial resources for the purpose of adapting the buses.

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, presented the Annual report of the Advocate for 2022 to the National Council. National Councillors estimated that the report was of high quality, transparent, and informative. They also praised the Advocate’s engagement in informing various audiences about protection against discrimination.

In his presentation of the Annual report, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, Miha Lobnik, told the National Councillors that in 2022, the Advocate provided counselling due to alleged discrimination to 440 people. In their requests for advice or reports of discrimination, they most often cited the personal ground of disability as the reason for the unjustifiably unequal treatment of which they were victims.

Miha Lobnik also stated that last year, the Advocate completed 50 discrimination investigation proceedings, and found discrimination in 14 cases. In addition to discrimination in the criteria for payment of the Christmas bonus, the Advocate also found discrimination against Roma men who were refused service at a bar; against political parties on the basis of religion or belief, whereby the said discrimination was perpetrated by a radio station; discrimination in a job interview when the candidate received a question about family planning; discrimination in restricting access to obtaining free ski passes; discrimination of a Cuban citizen and of a Syrian citizen by a bank and another financial institution; discrimination of a civil servant that was a victim of retaliation after issuing a warning about discrimination of a certain ethnic group in Slovenia; and discrimination in the renovation of a railway station, in the context of which a new underpass was built which does not allow unhindered access to persons with disabilities.

In his presentation, Miha Lobnik also noted that the first representation of a discriminated party in Court which was initiated by the Advocate in 2019 was successfully completed during this past year. The discriminated person received compensation for age-related discrimination.

In 2022, the Advocate also completed 29 regulatory assessments, whereby about one third of the assessed regulations were classified as discriminatory, said Miha Lobnik. Furthermore, the equality body made 81 recommendations to promote equal treatment and improve draft laws and applicable regulations.

In 2022, better knowledge of the principles of equal treatment and equal opportunities was also strengthened by the Advocate through panel discussions and online discussions about the products of the equality body. One such discussion took place on the occasion of the publication of the expert translation of the handbook on European anti-discrimination law by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which will also be a helpful resource in the further development of the Slovenian legal terminology. Miha Lobnik said that the Advocate also issued a special report on the accessibility of secondary schools for persons with reduced mobility, as well as a leaflet on the inadmissibility of age-related discrimination, and also redesigned the website of the equality body. Furthermore, during this past year, the Advocate repeatedly reminded the competent authorities that the deadline for ensuring the accessibility of all facilities in public use under the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act will expire in December 2025.

Having taken note of the Advocate’s annual report for 2022, the National Councillors estimated that the said report was of high quality, transparent, and informative. In their opinion, the Advocate’s work proves that the State urgently needs an equality body in order to ensure protection against discrimination. They also praised the Advocate’s engagement in informing various audiences about protection against discrimination. However, they did express some concern as to the fact that a large percentage of the Advocate’s recommendations issued to Ministries has remained unrealised.

The Advocate’s Annual report is available in electronic form at: https://zagovornik.si/en/what-we-do/annual-reports/. You can also access the files directly by clicking on the following links:

  • First part of the report
    The first part of the report presents a systemic overview of all activities and products of the Advocate in the previous year. The chapters describe the overview of his work and statistical data in individual cases, as well as in broader socially systemic areas.
  • The second part of the report
    The second part presents summaries of individual cases, grouped according to personal grounds, and descriptions of the educational and awareness-raising activities of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality.
  • The third part of the report
    The third part presents summaries of individual cases grouped according to Ministries covering individual areas, as well as an overview of the general and specific measures introduced to eliminate discrimination and promote equal treatment.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended that the Government ensures the implementation of all recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the CRPD Committee) regarding the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as most of them remain unrealised as of yet. The Advocate recommended to the Government to implement the recommendations as soon as possible in cooperation with other State authorities, and ensure the full and equal exercise of all rights and freedoms of persons with disabilities as defined under the Convention.

In 2014, Slovenia already prepared a report on compliance with the provisions of the Convention, which was submitted to the CRPD Committee, the body supervising the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 2018, the CRPD Committee listed its recommendations regarding the elimination of deficiencies in the adherence to the provisions of the Convention in 80 points. The report of the CRPD Committee was translated and published by the Advocate in its Annual report for 2018; furthermore, the Advocate also drew the attention of the competent authorities to compliance with the provisions of the Convention in several of its recommendations.

After five years, the Advocate has now reviewed whether and to what extent the recommendations of the CRPD Committee have been followed. Based on publicly available information, the Advocate assessed that the majority of the recommendations were not implemented, and that only two of the 80 recommended points were implemented in full.

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality: “Among other things, the legislation is still not harmonised with the CRPD and with the model for addressing disability which is based on human rights. No sanctions exist against denying reasonable accommodation in all areas of life, which is a form of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Any violation of accessibility requirements remains without consequences for the offenders. Legal provisions allowing deprivation of legal capacity and involuntary admission of persons with disabilities to psychiatric treatment still apply. All persons with disabilities still do not have the right to vote, as the State has not yet introduced supportive decision-making mechanisms in this and other areas. Organisations helping people with mental health problems are not allowed to acquire the status of disability organisations, and therefore cannot participate in the formulation of legislation and in the preparation of measures for the exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities. When it comes to protecting the rights of children with disabilities, no strategies exist to prevent violence against children in respite care. The State has also not yet established an effective system to coordinate the implementation of the Convention and ensure the coherence of the implementation of the human rights of persons with disabilities in various areas, nor has it established an effective independent mechanism to monitor the implementation of the CRPD.”

Therefore, the Advocate recommended that the Government, together with other State authorities, implements all recommendations of the CRPD Committee regarding the obligations of the State arising from the Convention. The Advocate warned the State, which had already ratified the Convention in 2008, of its obligation to ensure the full and equal exercise of all rights and freedoms of persons with disabilities as defined by the Convention.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality, Miha Lobnik, presented the work of the Advocate in 2022 to Emilija Stojmenova Duh, the Minister of Digital Transformation. They also talked about promoting digital inclusion for people who are facing certain difficulties in this area due to their personal grounds, and ensuring fast data transfer across the country.

During the working meeting with Minister Stojmenova Duh, the Head of the Advocate, Miha Lobnik, presented the activities of the Advocate in 2022.

He pointed out that the Promotion of Digital Inclusion Act in its original form did not take into account the requirements that apply to special measures under Articles 17 and 18 of the Protection against Discrimination Act (PADA). The Ministry considered the Advocate’s recommendations for the prevention of discrimination when it comes to allocating digital vouchers when preparing the amendments of this act.

Miha Lobnik also presented Minister Stojmenova Duh with the Advocate’s recommendations on the draft Healthcare Databases Act prepared by the Ministry of Health. The Minister Stojmenova Duh agreed that digitalisation should not make it difficult or impossible for anyone to access goods and services, if they are unable to use digital tools due to their personal grounds.

The Advocate and the Minister then discussed the activities of the Ministry regarding the accessibility of websites and mobile applications, as well as the provision of high-speed Internet throughout the territory of the Republic of Slovenia. The Minister said that in Slovenia, everyone already has the right to request access to the Internet as a universal service in the event that access to the Internet is not guaranteed by commercial providers.

The Minister announced further fruitful cooperation with the Advocate, including in the field of ensuring the principle of equal treatment and equal opportunities in the implementation of the Digital Slovenia 2030 Strategy and the introduction of legislation in the field of artificial intelligence. The Minister Stojmenova Duh further emphasized that human rights must always be at the forefront when developing and using artificial intelligence tools.

To find out more about the Annual report of the Advocate, please go to https://zagovornik.si/en/what-we-do/annual-reports/.

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, presented the work of the Advocate in 2022 to Bojan Kumer, Minister of the Environment, Climate and Energy. They also talked about ensuring the accessibility of public regular bus services to people with various disabilities.

During the working meeting with Minister Kumer, Miha Lobnik said that the Advocate provided counselling due to alleged discrimination to 440 people during this past year. Furthermore, the equality body also completed the consideration of 50 discrimination investigation procedures, and found discrimination in 14 of these cases. The equality body conducted 29 assessments of the discriminativeness of regulations, and assessed that 10 of those regulations were discriminative. Furthermore, the Advocate made 81 recommendations to eliminate discrimination, promote equal treatment, and improve draft laws and applicable regulations.

One of the assessments of regulations in which the Advocate detected discriminatory treatment was a measure to alleviate energy poverty of the former Ministry of Infrastructure, the tasks of which were partly taken over by the Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Energy (MECE). Miha Lobnik therefore emphasized that special measures aimed at eliminating the less favourable position of certain groups of the population must be introduced in a targeted manner and on the basis of analyses. They must follow Articles 17 and 18 of the Protection against Discrimination Act (PADA).

During the working meeting, the Advocate and the Minister also talked about the unavailability of public regular long-distance bus transport for people with various disabilities, especially reduced mobility. According to the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act, the deadline for providing accessible options in bus transport expired in December 2020. Miha Lobnik announced the outcome of a special report on this topic, which will also be forwarded to the Members of the National Assembly.

In his response, Minister Kumer said that the Ministry supported the Advocate’s efforts to eliminate inequalities. When preparing new potential solidarity measures and other special measures, they will consider the requirements of the PADA. He also presented the action of the Ministry in support of the accessibility of public regular long-distance passenger transport for persons with disabilities, in cooperation with the Geodetic Institute of Slovenia and the National Council of Disability Organizations of Slovenia. The Minister announced that the launch of two pilot projects intended to improve accessibility will take place next year.

To find out more about the Annual report of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, please go to https://zagovornik.si/en/what-we-do/annual-reports/

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, informed the Minister of Public Administration, Mrs Sanja Ajanović Hovnik, about the work performed by the Advocate in 2022. Among other things, they also discussed the prevention and elimination of discrimination in the accessibility of facilities managed by the Ministry, the electoral legislation, and the restructuring of the compensation and employee system in the public sector.

Miha Lobnik initially presented Sanja Ajanović Hovnik with the Annual report. During this past year, the Advocate provided counselling due to alleged discrimination to 440 individuals. Furthermore, the equality body also completed the consideration of 50 discrimination investigation procedures, and found discrimination in 14 of these cases. The Advocate conducted 29 assessments of the discriminativeness of regulations, and assessed that 10 of those regulations were discriminative. The equality body made 81 recommendations to eliminate discrimination, promote equal treatment, and improve draft laws and applicable regulations. For the purpose of raising awareness of discrimination among the general public, the Advocate also prepared leaflets on the inadmissibility of age-related discrimination, as well as a special report on the accessibility of secondary schools for persons with reduced mobility.

As the meeting continued, the Advocate and the Minister discussed the details of the issue of accessibility of public facilities to persons with disabilities, as the deadline for ensuring accessibility under the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act will expire in December 2025. During this discussion, the Advocate presented the first results of the Advocate’s survey, conducted among approximately 2,500 institutions, which show that accessibility is still limited in some cases. The Minister emphasized that the Ministry, as the administrator of numerous properties in which State authorities operate, also considers, to the highest possible extent, the aspect of ensuring accessibility, i.e. ramps, elevators, tactile markings etc., when renovating buildings.

Since the Ministry of Public Administration is also responsible for the preparation of electoral legislation, the Head of the Advocate, Miha Lobnik, pointed out that the equality body believes that the possibility of depriving persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities of their right to vote is discriminatory against the said persons. Pursuant to Article 7 of the National Assembly Election Act, the possibility of depriving these persons of their right to vote is only envisaged for those categories of persons, since when it comes to other citizens, their ability to understand the purpose, meaning, and effect of the elections is not assessed. Minister Ajanović Hovnik noted that the Ministry of Public Administration would follow the recommendation of the Advocate regarding the said topic, but that the electoral system would otherwise also be the subject of a broader public debate led by the National Assembly.

Finally, the Advocate and the Minister focused on the recommendations of the Advocate regarding the restructuring of the public compensation system for civil servants, which the Ministry is preparing in cooperation with its social partners. During his meeting with the Minister, Miha Lobnik also said that solutions must prevent the possibility of discrimination in the field of employment, salaries, promotions, and other working conditions of civil servants. He also emphasized the importance of collecting disaggregated data on employees, which would allow the identification of any unjustified differences in salaries and other working conditions due to the personal grounds of individual employees, and action in response to the said differences. The Minister ensured that this aspect would also be taken into consideration in the framework of the restructuring of the compensation and employee system in the public sector. She added that intensive activities for the establishment of a competence centre and the restructuring of the training system for civil servants with the aim of strengthening their competencies were already ongoing.

To find out more about the content of the Annual report, please go to https://zagovornik.si/en/what-we-do/annual-reports/.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality prepared a recommendation on the draft act on the Common Foundations of the Public Sector Salary System Act. The Advocate recommended to the Ministry of Public Administration to introduce solutions that would prevent discrimination in employment, salaries, promotions, and other working conditions of civil servants when preparing its restructuring of the compensation system. The Advocate also recommended to ensure the collection of disaggregated data on employees, which would allow the identification of any unjustified differences due to the personal grounds of individual employees.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality provided several recommendations to the Ministry of Public Administration, which is restructuring the public compensation system in cooperation with its social partners, in order to ensure protection against discrimination in the said system.

The Advocate recommended that, when categorising individual job positions into several salary groups and pillars, the Ministry should pay attention to not only classify the job positions that are predominantly performed by women or foreigners as less highly valued, simply because they are performed by women or foreigners. It was pointed out that the regulation must be independent of the bargaining power of certain social partners.

Given the forecasts that the act could also include measures to “rejuvenate” public administration by promoting the employment of young people, the Advocate warned the Ministry that measures giving an advantage to a certain group of job seekers or employees should be justified through analyses, in order to ensure that they do not lead to a discriminatory treatment of others.

It was emphasized that a single compensation system is a good way to ensure equal pay for equal work, regardless of the personal grounds of each individual employee, but only if the system is not discriminatory. Therefore, it was recommended that the Ministry prepares a justified and transparent classification of job positions into salary brackets, and considers how the proposed solutions could affect employees with certain personal grounds such as pregnancy, parenthood or illness, when adopting the measures in question.

For the purpose of detecting unjustified unequal treatment of employees on the basis of their personal grounds in working conditions, the Advocate also recommended that the Ministry provides the legal basis for collecting disaggregated data on the personal grounds of employees, their remuneration, types of employment, titles, promotions, and absences from work in the act. Furthermore, the Ministry should also define the method of collecting and processing data, as well as the obligation to prepare periodic reports.

The Advocate explained that this is the only way to assess whether some employees may be discriminated against – only with the help of these data and analyses will it be possible to determine whether younger civil servants are more likely to be employed on fixed-term contracts, whether female employees more often receive poor performance reviews, whether employees with children progress more slowly, whether foreign citizens perform night work more often, or whether sick people leave their jobs more often than others, etc.

The Advocate also recommended to the Ministry that the law should also provide for a method of action in the event that the data analysis would indicate discriminatory treatment of certain employees.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality submitted a request to the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the Personal Assistance Act. The Advocate submitted this request on the basis of the assessment that this law is discriminatory, as it only makes a distinction between the rights of persons with disabilities based on how old they are. The Advocate decided to file the request since the competent ministry did not take into account the recommendation to eliminate discrimination, which is why the effects of the law are clearly still discriminatory.

At the beginning of 2021, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality evaluated the Personal Assistance Act (PAA), adopted in 2018, as discriminatory. The assessment of the regulation was carried out on the basis of a complaint filed by a person who was denied the right to obtain personal assistance only on the basis of their age. One of the legal conditions for eligibility for personal assistance states that persons with disabilities who wish to benefit from this service must be between 18 and 65 years of age when filing their application. The person filing the complaint, however, applied for personal assistance a few months after reaching the age of 65.

In his assessment procedure, the Advocate did not find any valid reasons for denying the right to personal assistance to persons with disabilities belonging to a certain age group only on the basis of their age. The Advocate also noted that no services comparable to the personal assistance service existed for persons over the age of 65. Although these persons with disabilities may benefit from the institution of a family helper or make use of home help for families, these forms of assistance are less accessible, less extensive, and more expensive for the user when compared to personal assistance.

When preparing the assessment that the PAA regulation is discriminatory on the basis of age, the Advocate recommended to the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (MLFSAEO) to eliminate the perceived discriminatory treatment already within the amendment of the PPA which the Ministry was preparing at the time of the Advocate’s assessment. This recommendation was not taken into account; in the revised version of the law, implemented in November 2021, the regulation remained unchanged and therefore continues to cause discrimination. In February 2023, the Advocate received a new proposal to submit a request for the review of the constitutionality of the PPA. In their complaint, the proposer provided an example of two persons with equally serious illnesses who needed comparable assistance services, but receive different forms of assistance solely on the basis of their age difference. The patient who has not yet reached the age of 65 is entitled to round-the-clock personal assistance, while the patient over 65 years of age is only receiving care allowance.

In its request for the review of the constitutionality of the PPA, the Advocate reiterated that unequal treatment of persons with disabilities based on their personal ground of age, as enacted by this act, is unfounded and constitutes discrimination when it comes to the access to the right to personal assistance. The Advocate suggested to the Constitutional Court to impose an amendment of the law on the National Assembly in the event that the Court estimates that said act was inconsistent with the Constitution. The Advocate further suggested that age restrictions for obtaining personal assistance should not apply until all discrepancies between the provisions of the PPA and the Constitution are resolved.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended to the Ministry of Health to clearly state in its draft proposal of the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia Act (HIISA) that the general acts adopted by the Assembly of the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia only regulate the manner of exercising the rights under the Health Care and Health Insurance Act (HCHIA) and not the rights themselves, as is currently in force under the HCHIA. Such a solution would prevent the possibility of discrimination against insured persons.

In his recommendation on the draft law on the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia, the Advocate pointed out to the Ministry of Health, as the law-maker, that the solutions envisaged in said act regarding the competence of the Assembly of the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia are inadequate from the point of view of the protection against discrimination of insured persons.

Certain provisions in Article 17 of the draft law could enable the rights from compulsory health insurance to be determined by the general acts of the Institute, including the Rules on compulsory health insurance, thus bypassing the law governing the rights stemming from this insurance.

If the solutions set out in the draft proposal were implemented, the regime that was already declared inadequate by the Constitutional Court in 2021 would continue to apply. In the specific case of the refusal of the right to artificial insemination to a woman over 43 years of age, the Constitutional Court established that the existing rules adopted by the Assembly of the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia unjustifiably limited a certain right, and repealed them in this part. The Constitutional Court ruled that, in this case, the Rules on compulsory health insurance “exceeded the framework of the constitutionally permissible by-law regulation of the human right to health care”. Rights can namely only be regulated by law.

Therefore, the Advocate recommended that the Ministry amends the draft of the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia Act regarding the competence of the Assembly of the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia in such a way that the provisions will not enable the regulation of rights and the content of said rights from the HCHIA but will only regulate the method in which they are implemented.

Miha Lobnik, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, recommended that the Government adopts an urgently needed law enabling the constitutional right of deafblind people to use their language to also come to life in practice. In the recommendation, the Advocate urged the preparation of a legislation that would comprehensively define all key rights of deafblind people, thereby improving their position in the society.

According to some sources, there are nearly 10,000 deafblind people in Slovenia. Their hearing and vision impairments are such that they do not allow the two senses to compensate for one another. In order to enable this vulnerable population group to benefit from equal starting points and equal treatment, it is necessary to prepare measures which are specifically geared towards them.

In March 2021, the Advocate supported the government’s proposal to include the right to use and develop the language of the deafblind in the Constitution. At the same time, he also recommended that the government adopts an appropriate legislative regulation related to the right to use the language of the deafblind. As noted by the Advocate at that time, only such a legal basis would enable the constitutionally guaranteed rights to come to life in all areas.

The Action Programme for Persons with Disabilities 2022–2030 introduced by the Government already highlights the need to regulate the free use and development of the language of the deafblind. Measures to achieve this goal also include ensuring access to information and communication for the deafblind, as well as eliminating barriers in the educational process. The Action Programme also discusses the promotion of learning the language of the deafblind. To increase the communication opportunities of deafblind people, measures are also envisaged in the Resolution on the National Program for Language Policy 2021–2025, which was approved by the deputies of the National Assembly in June 2021.

While recognising the need to regulate the rights of the deafblind, the Advocate therefore recommends that the Government prepares an act that would include all key rights of the deafblind, thereby improving their position in the society.

The objective is to provide information in the language of the deafblind and use the services of interpreters, train the deafblind and their relatives to use the language of the deafblind, and introduce appropriate adjustments in the field of education. However, early holistic approach to the treatment of deafblind children, access to support persons who will enable deafblind people to engage in personal development and integrate into society, and professional support and assistance for the families of deafblind people should also be provided. In the recommendation, the Advocate suggested that the Government should use the draft legislative solutions prepared by the Deafblind Association of Slovenia DLAN as a starting point for the preparation of the said law.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality addressed several recommendations to the Ministry of Health regarding the draft proposal of the Healthcare Databases Act (HDA) in order for the said act to better respect the rights of each individual and protect them from discrimination when it comes to medical treatment. Some of the provisions contained in the draft proposal could lead to discriminatory treatment of some patients due to their personal grounds of health status, disability, age, language, and financial situation when the law enters into force.

As the state body responsible for protection against discrimination, one of the tasks of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality is also to monitor the situation in the field of discrimination in Slovenia. Among other things, one of the methods to ensure this is by examining draft laws. If the Advocate assesses that any of the proposed legislative solutions could cause discrimination according to the Protection against Discrimination Act (PADA), the Advocate’s task is to warn the law-maker by means of a recommendation.

The Ministry of Health which is in charge of preparing the HDA stipulated, in this draft law, that patients should explicitly prohibit their sensitive personal health data from being visible to anyone who is providing them with medical treatment. With a recommendation, the Advocate therefore warned the Ministry that such a regulation could, due to the nature of these data, significantly increase the risk of patients being discriminated against on the basis of the personal ground of their health status. The Advocate recommended that these data should only be automatically and fully accessible to the individual’s personal doctor, while they should only be accessible to other doctors if they are entitled to access these data during the specific treatment of that individual. The personal data in question are primarily the sensitive personal health data in the fields of psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry or clinical psychology, gynaecology, medical genetics, and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

The Advocate also issued a similar warning regarding the unlimited access to such data that should be available to health care providers in the field of occupational, traffic and sports medicine. In the recommendation, the Advocate pointed out that, due to prejudice and misconceptions, this could also lead to discriminatory treatment of those who may have once been treated in the aforementioned fields but were either cured in the meantime or it later turned out that they did not need such specialist treatment.

The Advocate recommended that the Ministry also considers the solution in the proposal of the HDA from the point of view of protection against discrimination, so that parents or legal representatives of those adolescents aged between 15 and 18 who need special care and protection under the Parental Protection and Family Benefits Act could also have access to data on health treatments. According to the Advocate, such regulation is too broad, as adolescents who have the ability to decide for themselves and express their will may also need special care and protection, but they can decide for themselves who should be allowed to access their health data. The proposal of the HDA prescribes the accessibility of the data of such adolescents to their parents or guardians on the basis of the fact that they need such special care and protection, meaning that, due to this personal ground, this puts them in a less favourable position compared to adolescents who are also able to make decisions about themselves, but do not need special care and protection. Likewise, the Advocate warned about the provisions intended to provide access to medical data to caregivers of adult patients under guardianship.

The proposal of the HDA stipulates that patient data will be collected in a database called the Central Electronic Health Record. As stated by the Advocate in the recommendation to the Ministry of Health, the law should already set out the measures to be implemented in order to make this data accessible to patients with vision issues, hearing issues and touch sensation impairments, as well as people who are less digitally literate due to their personal grounds, who do not have access to information and communication technologies, who do not master the Slovenian language, or who have a health condition that temporarily prevents them from electronically communicating in an efficient manner. In considering this recommendation, the Ministry should take into consideration the highest standards of providing digital accessibility to people with different types of disabilities. As the Advocate also pointed out, it is also important that this information is available free of charge at all levels of the healthcare system, in order to avoid possible discrimination on the basis of the personal ground of one’s financial situation.

Last month, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality sent a query to nearly 2,500 institutions to complete an online survey on the accessibility of public facilities for persons with disabilities. The response was encouraging: 1,645 institutions completed the survey in full, with an additional 572 institutions partially completing the survey, which represents a total of 2,217 questionnaires that the Advocate will take into consideration when preparing an analysis of the answers. Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate, points out that such a response demonstrates a great awareness of the importance of ensuring accessibility, as well as a willingness to cooperate in improving this area. “I would like to thank everyone who participated in this national project that will help us improve the accessibility of our public spaces together. The emerging perspective will be the basis for planning and preparing necessary resources for such accessibility, as provided for under the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act,” added the Head of the Advocate.

At the end of March, the Advocate sent a query to 2,461 institutions across the country on the accessibility of public facilities for persons with disabilities. In a letter, the Advocate invited them to complete an online survey on this topic, while at the same time drawing their attention to the provisions of the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (the EOPDA), which states that public facilities which are currently under reconstruction, as well as all other public facilities, must be adapted so that they are also accessible to people with disabilities, by 11 December 2025 at the latest.

Among other things, the Advocate invited kindergartens and primary schools, secondary schools and pupil dormitories, universities, higher vocational schools, research institutions, student dormitories, hospitals, health centres, social work centres, libraries, museums, archives, municipalities, administrative units, police stations, prisons, courts and prosecutors’ offices, and others to participate in the survey.

Upon his first review of the responses to the survey, the Advocate found that the response rate was high. Indeed, the Advocate received responses from the vast majority of the institutions invited to complete the survey – no less than 1,645 institutions completed the survey in full, with additional 572 institutions partially completing the survey. When preparing the analysis of the answers, the equality body will therefore take into account the answers from 2,217 surveys.

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality: “The response shows a great awareness of the meaning and importance of the accessibility of premises for persons with disabilities. It also shows the willingness of institutions to help ensure that basic conditions are respected, so that people with disabilities and other mobility issues can access public spaces and be a part of the society without excessive effort.”

“I would like to thank everyone who participated in this national project that will help us improve the accessibility of our public spaces together. The emerging perspective will be the basis for planning and preparing necessary resources for such accessibility, as provided for under the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act. The Advocate will analyse the responses and prepare an excerpt. The strong response to the survey will convince decision-makers to start implementing the necessary activities in a timely manner and also find the necessary resources to appropriately adapt the accessibility of the currently inaccessible premises.”

When sending out the invitation to complete the survey, Miha Lobnik already noted that accessible facilities are beneficial for everyone, not only for persons with disabilities. “Older people, parents with strollers, and anyone with a temporary injury also find them easier to navigate. By eliminating architectural and other barriers, we are therefore creating a functional environment, not only for people with disabilities, but also for everyone else who needs it.”

The said survey comes after the Advocate drew the attention of all State authorities, municipalities and institutions in the field of public administration services, education, justice, culture, and sports to the approaching deadline for ensuring the accessibility of facilities in public use pursuant to the EOPDA.

In a special report on the accessibility of secondary schools for people with reduced mobility, which is available at https://zagovornik.si/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Accessibility-of-Secondary-Schools-for-Persons-with-Reduced-Mobility.pdf, the Advocate found, among other things, that only a quarter of the facilities in which secondary education is conducted officially reunite all the conditions enabling persons with reduced mobility to be included in the educational process. When issuing the handbook, the Advocate prepared recommendations on what needs to be done for the appropriate accommodations required by the law to be taken into account.

Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, handed over the Advocate’s Annual report for 2022 to the members of the National Assembly. The report presents the work and activities of the equality body in a transparent manner. In the past year, the equality body provided counselling due to alleged discrimination to 440 individuals. Furthermore, the equality body also completed the consideration of 50 discrimination investigation procedures, and found discrimination in 14 of these cases. The Advocate conducted 29 assessments of the discriminativeness of regulations, and assessed that 12 of those regulations were discriminative. The equality body made 81 recommendations to eliminate discrimination, promote equal treatment, and improve draft laws and applicable regulations. The Advocate also prepared leaflets on the inadmissibility of age-related discrimination, a special report on the accessibility of secondary schools for persons with reduced mobility, and a professional translation of a handbook on European anti-discrimination law. In order to raise awareness of discrimination, the equality body obtained European funds, together with its project partners.

In the Advocate’s Annual report for 2022, Miha Lobnik, the Head of the Advocate, highlighted the successful completion of the first representation of a discriminated party in court, a case which was taken over by the Advocate in 2019. “After three years of litigation, the representation of the party subject to discrimination based on age was completed with the court establishing the occurrence of discrimination and awarding the victim a compensation,” noted the Advocate. During this past year, in order to raise awareness of the inadmissibility of discrimination against older and young people, the Advocate prepared leaflets and distributed them at various events.

In the past year, the equality body provided advice to 440 people whose requests for advice or reports of discrimination most often cited the personal ground of disability as the reason for the unjustifiably unequal treatment of which they were victims.

In relation to this personal ground, the Advocate issued a special report in 2022 on the accessibility of secondary schools for persons with reduced mobility. In the report, the Advocate found that in some regions, no schools were available for persons with reduced mobility, while in other regions, only one school was properly accessible. The Advocate repeatedly reminded the competent authorities that the deadline for ensuring the accessibility of all facilities in public use under the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act will expire in December 2025.

As Miha Lobnik also pointed out in his foreword to the Annual report, 2022 was the year in which the Advocate received the largest number of complaints of discrimination in the field of work and employment. “Often, the cases were associated with parenting, pregnancy, and health status when awarding performance and Christmas bonus awards related to the companies’ performance. Last year again, some successful companies reported that they had been unaware of discrimination related to the said Christmas bonuses, and promised to eliminate it.”

Among the 50 discrimination investigation procedures that were closed by the Advocate last year, discrimination was found in 14 of them. In addition to discrimination in the criteria for payment of the Christmas bonus, the Advocate also found discrimination against Roma men who were refused service at a bar; against political parties on the basis of religion or belief, whereby the said discrimination was perpetrated by a radio station; discrimination in a job interview when the candidate received a question about family planning; discrimination in restricting access to obtaining free ski passes; discrimination of a Cuban citizen and of a Syrian citizen by a bank and another financial institution; discrimination of a civil servant that was a victim of retaliation after issuing a warning about discrimination of a certain ethnic group in Slovenia; and discrimination in the renovation of a railway station, in the context of which a new underpass was built which does not allow unhindered access to persons with disabilities. In some of the aforementioned cases, the Advocate informed the competent inspectorates about the said discrimination and proposed the initiation of a sanctioning procedure.

In order to move forward in ensuring equal treatment and equal opportunities in the society, the Advocate’s recommendations also play an important role. The recommendations are intended to eliminate discrimination, promote equal treatment, and improve draft laws and regulations in force. In 2022, the Advocate issued 81 recommendations, of which 55 were related to laws and other regulations, and 26 were intended to promote equal treatment and eliminate unequal treatment. Last year, the long-standing discrimination of gay men in blood donation was eliminated with the implementation of one of the previous recommendations of the Advocate.

In 2022, knowledge of the principles of equal treatment and equal opportunities was also strengthened by the Advocate through panel discussions and online discussions about the products of the equality body. One such discussion took place on the occasion of the publication of the expert translation of the handbook on European anti-discrimination law by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which will also be a helpful resource in the further development of the Slovenian legal terminology. “A piece in the mosaic of improvements in the field of protection against discrimination in Slovenia was also added by obtaining European funds for the project Face discrimination – creating a society of equal opportunities, which was conceived as a cooperation between the Advocate, the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television of the University of Ljubljana, the Association of Municipalities of Slovenia and the Prizma Foundation,” further noted Miha Lobnik in his report.

The Advocate’s Annual report is available electronically on the website of the equality body: https://zagovornik.si/en/what-we-do/annual-reports/.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality is a State body established to ensure protection against discrimination and equal treatment. The body operates under the Protection against Discrimination Act, which, among other things, requires the Advocate to inform the National Assembly by the end of April every year about its work in the previous year. The main figure of the equality body is the Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality Miha Lobnik. 

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality received a request for the assessment of discriminativeness of Article 157 of the Pension and Disability Insurance Act (PDIA) which allegedly discriminates against certain men. Among other things, said article stipulates that the employer may only claim reimbursement of a part of the contributions for pension and disability insurance for those first-time employees who are mothers and who are caring for a child under the age of three, and who have been continuously employed by the same employer for no less than two years. The Advocate examined whether men in a similar position are at a disadvantage as a result of this, as no such State incentives are foreseen for the employment of these men. Based on statistical data proving that women in the labour market are in a disadvantaged position compared to men, the Advocate concluded that the incentive should be considered as a special measure to ensure equal treatment and equal opportunities under Article 17 and Article 18 of the Protection against Discrimination Act (PADA). Therefore, the Advocate assessed that said article of the PDIA is not discriminatory.

In the process of assessing the discriminativeness of article 157 of the Pension and Disability Insurance Act (the PDIA), the Advocate verified whether the granting of a State incentive to employers in the form of the possibility of reimbursement of a part of the contributions for pension and disability insurance when employing a first-time female employee who is a mother, who is caring for a child under the age of three, and who has been continuously employed by the same employer for no less than two years, is discriminatory against men in a similar position. The initiator of the request for the assessment of discriminativeness argued that the described statutory regulation could lead to discriminatory treatment in employment on the basis of the personal ground of gender, as employers could, due to the envisaged incentive at the time of the first employment of women, unduly give priority to women when filling a job vacancy.

For the purposes of the assessment, the Advocate requested clarifications from the Institute for Pension and Disability Insurance (IPDI) and the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (MLFSAEO). Both institutions stated that the aforementioned provision of Article 157 of the PDIA is a special measure intended to ensure equal treatment and equal opportunities. They noted that the purpose of this regulation is to ensure equal opportunities for women in the labour market, who are otherwise in a less favourable position than men in this area, also due to the fact that they are mothers or that they can become mothers.

As explained by the Ministry, the disadvantage of women in the labour market is indicated by various statistic data. The rate of work activation in women aged 25-49 who have a child under the age of six has been, on average, 15 percentage points lower in the last ten years compared to the rate of work activation in men in the same statistical group. More women than men are also registered as unemployed. Additionally, women are more often employed on a fixed-term basis than men in the age group of employees over 25 years of age.

The Advocate found that the above indicates the actual disadvantage of women in the labour market, and that the measure under consideration in Article 157 of the Pension and Disability Insurance Act (the PDIA) is therefore an appropriate and, additionally, still necessary special measure to ensure equal opportunities and possibilities for women in this field. Therefore, the Advocate assessed that Article 157 of the PDIA is not discriminatory.

This is a brief summary of the assessment which is published in full at the Advocate’s website: www

We would also like to add an explanation on the special measures as set out in the Protection against Discrimination Act (PADA):

Special measures intended to ensure equality are temporary measures whose objective is to ensure the realisation of the right to equal treatment, equal opportunity or actual equality and participation in the fields of social lives of people who are in a less favourable position due to certain personal grounds. Special measures shall be adopted in order to prevent or eliminate consequences of such a position or provide a substitute for a less favourable situation. Special measures shall particularly include incentive measures and positive action. Incentive measures provide special benefits or introduce special incentives for persons in less favourable positions in a certain field or environment. Positive action gives advantage to people with certain personal grounds when they meet the prescribed criteria and conditions to an equal extent, and may be applied particularly in the case of evident disproportion regarding the possibilities of accessing the enforcement of rights, or accessing goods, services or benefits. (Article 17 of the PADA)

Special measures pursue the legitimate objective of eliminating a less favourable situation of persons with a particular personal ground. This objective must be based on analyses of the existence of a less favourable position, while the measure must be a necessary and appropriate means of eliminating such a situation. According to the law, entities which adopt special measures (in this case, employers and the Government) must regularly verify their merits or eligibility of continuing to implement them. If established that the objective of implementing them has been achieved, the measures must be ended immediately. (Article 18 of the PADA)

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality has issued a manual on ensuring equal opportunities and preventing discrimination in employment and work. On this occasion, the Advocate prepared a panel discussion on this topic in cooperation with the Managers’ Association of Slovenia. At the event, the speakers emphasized the importance of an inclusive working environment for a good atmosphere in teams, increased productivity and positive social reputation of organisations, and other benefits of a thoughtful promotion of diversity and inclusion. They confirmed that the legal duty to provide protection against discrimination is not only an obligation, but also an opportunity.

In the introduction to the conversation, which was held under the title “Diversity and Inclusion – The Path to Greater Company Success”, Petra Juvančič, Executive Director of the Managers’ Association, pointed out that the way in which goals are achieved is also an important feature of the process of achieving the goals of organisations. “Our ethics, integrity, respectfulness, and respect for diversity are important. Our association is awarding “Vključi.vse” (Include.all) prizes, and in the process, we often find examples of good practice in Slovenia.”

The guests and panellists were also addressed by Miha Lobnik, Head of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, who emphasised the importance of raising awareness in order to successfully prevent and eradicate discrimination. “In 2020, we used a survey to examine the social areas that the inhabitants of Slovenia consider as the areas where discrimination is most widespread. The field of employment and work stood out. There is therefore a measured perception in our society that discrimination is a problem in this area, which is also confirmed by the statistics of cases reported to the Advocate. This is the context in which our handbook was created, in order to contribute to the discussion of these issues and achieve some improvements in this area,” said the Advocate.

Dr. Matevž Kokol, Adviser to the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, presented some key concepts of protection against discrimination to the participants, and also explained how to ensure appropriate treatment of all persons in the field of employment and work, regardless of their personal grounds.

The importance of ensuring an inclusive working environment was also presented by the directors of some successful Slovenian companies.

Sonja Gole, CEO of Adria Mobil, said that her guiding principle is the awareness that employee diversity is what gives the company momentum and the possibility for a greater success: “It is often more difficult to coordinate diverse groups, but the results produced by such a process are empowering for all participants. At Adria Mobil, diversity is something we truly live by; we support it and we accept gender diversity, diversity in education and diversity of abilities. In embodying this diversity, everyone is treated equally at first, but after that, individuals can receive a different treatment, if need be.”

Andraž Štalec from the Red Orbit agency said that, in their company, the respect for the diversity of employees goes without saying. “Let’s imagine a world in which we are all the same. Such a world is boring, grey, dreary, and terribly uncreative. For me, diversity is the biggest selling point of a company and also an added bonus for a society, as it fosters creativity, which is a foundation for novelties.”

Tomaž Žnidarič, CEO of Ljubljanske mlekarne, said that in their company, which was also a recipient of the “Vključi.vse” award, diversity is the result of objective actions and of the acceptance of anyone with knowledge, experience, and the opportunity to add value to their company. “As a result, my inner team consists of 8 women and 6 men. These women are not a part of my team because they were women or because a text said that we have to be equal or diverse; they are a part of my team because they are great at what they do.” Upon detecting possible discrimination between different generations of employees due to age, workshops were organized to increase mutual understanding, communication, and productivity.

“Companies that have adopted diversity as their modus operandi achieve better results, increase their added value, have more valuable shares, and their capital returns are higher,” said Marjana Lavrič Šulman, an independent consultant and previous long-term director of the marketing agency Futura DDB. However, she also noted that such handbooks are needed despite the said research. “Before, I was not in favour of the so-called ‘women quotas’ but I am now. Nowadays, women are even more educated than men, and yet the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, the lower the share of women. We still have a pay gap, and if you’re a woman, you’re also more likely to have to deal with sexual harassment. Respect for diversity is still not something to be taken for granted. And as long as this is the case, I am very grateful for such handbooks and initiatives.”

An inclusive work environment brings many positive effects

As evidenced by the Advocate’s practice and research on discrimination in Slovenia, the field of work and employment is also the area of social life in which individuals most often feel discriminated against. Barriers to employment are mainly faced by persons with disabilities, women, the elderly or young people, the under-educated, foreigners, the Roma people, people of different nationalities, and homosexuals.

The Advocate therefore published a handbook on the protection against discrimination in the field of employment and work. The manual is intended to be used by company management, human resources departments and legal services, people involved in recruitment procedures, consultancy firms, legal representatives, and employees and their associations.

The handbook presents the duties of employers when it comes to preventing discrimination. It also includes some examples of good practices when it comes to managing employee diversity. The handbook emphasises that ensuring an inclusive working environment has many positive effects, including a lower proportion of absenteeism and a lower number of dismissals by qualified staff.

A video of the panel discussion is available on the Advocate’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7o-0ZTVK6Q

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality sent an inquiry to nearly 2,500 institutions across the country on the accessibility of public facilities for persons with disabilities. The inquiry is intended to examine the current situation while at the same time drawing attention to the fact that the full availability of already-constructed facilities in public use must be ensured by 11 December 2025 at the latest. Since the said deadline is rapidly approaching, the time is ripe for an active involvement of those in charge.

The Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (the EOPDA) stipulates, among other things, that public facilities which are currently under reconstruction, as well as all other public facilities, must be adapted so that they are also accessible to people with disabilities, by 11 December 2025 at the latest.

The Advocate sent an inquiry to 2,461 addressees with a survey on whether public facilities for which they are responsible are accessible or will be accessible by the legal deadline.

Among other things, the Advocate invited kindergartens and primary schools, secondary schools and pupil dormitories, universities, higher vocational schools, research institutions, student dormitories, hospitals, health centres, social work centres, libraries, museums, archives, municipalities, administrative units, police stations, prisons, courts and prosecutors’ offices, and others to participate in the survey.

Miha Lobnik, Advocate of the Principle of Equality: “Accessible facilities are beneficial for everyone, not only for persons with disabilities. Older people, parents with strollers, and anyone with a temporary injury also find them easier to navigate. By eliminating architectural and other barriers, we are therefore creating a functional environment, not only for people with disabilities, but also for everyone else who needs it. The first step is to determine the current situation when it comes to the accessibility of facilities in the field, which will enable us to plan for any necessary changes.”

The said survey comes after the Advocate drew the attention of all State authorities, municipalities and institutions in the field of public administration services, education, justice, culture, and sports to the approaching deadline for ensuring the accessibility of facilities in public use pursuant to the EOPDA.

In a special report on the accessibility of secondary schools for people with reduced mobility, which is available at https://zagovornik.si/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Accessibility-of-Secondary-Schools-for-Persons-with-Reduced-Mobility.pdf, the Advocate found, among other things, that only a quarter of the facilities in which secondary education is conducted officially reunite all the conditions enabling persons with reduced mobility to be included in the educational process. When issuing the handbook, the Advocate prepared recommendations on what needs to be done for the appropriate accommodations required by the law to be taken into account.

With the two recommendations, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality participated in the preparation of the Resolution on the National Programme for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Violence against Women for the 2023-2028 period, which is currently under public consultation process. The Advocate pointed out that maternity homes, safe houses, shelters, and crisis centres must also provide accommodation for people with disabilities and for men who are victims of domestic violence. The Advocate recommended that the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (the MLFSAEO) which is drafting the resolution also envisages appropriate measures for these groups and set indicators for measuring the progress in achieving the said goals.

The Advocate reviewed the draft Resolution on the National Programme for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Violence against Women for the 2023-2028 period prepared by the MLFSAEO. The Advocate recommended supplementing the part of the resolution relating to the provision of accommodation in accommodation programmes for victims of domestic violence and violence against women.

The Ministry noted that this strategic document should consider that victims of domestic violence often include persons with disabilities, and that men can also be victims of domestic violence.

In his justification for the proposals for improvements to the resolution, the Advocate also stated that accessibility of services and accommodation programs for victims of domestic violence is especially important for persons with disabilities, as they are more often victims of violence than people without this personal ground. According to the brochure “Network of Social Welfare Programs, Programs for Persons with Disabilities and Family Support Programs” prepared by the MLFSAEO, there is currently only one association in the country that explicitly provides persons with disabilities with a safe haven from violence.

The Advocate therefore recommended that the resolution should be amended with the objective that assistance in the event of domestic violence should also be accessible to persons with disabilities. As the indicator for measuring the progress in achieving this goal, he also added the measure of the number of accommodation places available for them in safe houses and other similar spaces.

The recommendation also noted the need to improve the possibilities for assistance and protection for adult men who are victims of domestic violence. In the vast majority of cases (90%), victims of domestic violence are women. According to information available to the “Beli obroč” (White ring) association, one in ten men have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking perpetrated by an intimate partner. According to the Medical Chamber of Slovenia, research shows that professionals in the field of domestic violence often do not believe the testimonies of male victims or ignore them.

Therefore, the discrimination protection body recommended to the Ministry that measures for the protection of male victims of domestic violence should also be envisaged in the resolution. As stated, access to accommodation and services in a safe and peaceful environment in the event of domestic violence must be available to all victims, regardless of their personal grounds.

Recently, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality has assessed that the Pension and Disability Insurance Act (PDIA) discriminates against children with special needs who require assistance with basic living needs. According to the Advocate, the said law also discriminates against some adults who are affiliated to an occupational insurance scheme. The Advocate recommended that the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (the MLFSAEO) amends the law.

After conducting two assessments of the discriminativeness of the PDIA, the Advocate recommended that the competent ministry includes, in the amendment to the law which is currently being examined in the framework of intersectoral coordination, two amendments related to the position of children with special needs and the position of employed adults who perform occupations subject to age restrictions.

The Advocate recommended an amendment of Article 100 of the Pension and Disability Insurance Act (PDIA), which only grants a special assistance and service allowance to underage blind persons who are covered by the insurance of another insured person or of a retiree. According to the Advocate, all children with special needs who need the assistance of another person to meet their basic needs and who are also covered by the insurance of another insured person should be entitled to receive the said assistance and care allowance.

In order to eliminate discrimination, the Advocate also recommended amending Article 200 of the Pension and Disability Insurance Act (the PDIA) in the part regulating the suspension of occupational health insurance, i.e. the instances in which employers are not obliged to pay occupational insurance contributions to their employees. According to the Advocate, this part of the law discriminates against those employees who perform jobs that cannot be successfully and professionally performed after a certain age. Due to absences related to their personal grounds of parenthood, gender, and disability, their occupational retirement is delayed, which also runs counter to the introduction of compulsory occupational insurance due to the exercise of heavy work.

The Advocate found another case of discrimination in the criteria for the payment of the Christmas bonus. The company conditioned the amount of the bonus upon the employee’s presence at the workplace. Employees who were absent from work for more than 24 days received a lower Christmas bonus. The Advocate found that, for this reason, employees who were absent from work due to personal grounds of parenthood, pregnancy, and health status were put at a disadvantage.

On the basis of an anonymous report sent by an employee of the production company, the Advocate checked whether the company had acted in a discriminatory manner in determining the criteria for the payment of the Christmas bonus. The company has determined that the remuneration arising from the business performance of the said company will be lower for all employees who will be absent from work for more than 24 days. Furthermore, employees who were absent for more than 195 days and employees who benefited from maternity leave during the entire period to which the criteria applied were not entitled to said Christmas bonus at all.

In the process of discrimination investigation, the Advocate examined whether such a regulation could be considered as a permissible exception to the prohibition of discrimination; after receiving explanations from the company, the Advocate found that this was not the case.

In its decision, the Advocate stated that, when it comes to the payment of the part of the salary arising from the business performance of the company, commonly called the “Christmas bonus” or the “thirteenth salary”, the essential component is to share the surplus achieved by the company as a whole, which is why, as a rule, all employees are entitled to said reward. The criterion in question, which reduced the Christmas bonus for all employees who were absent for more than 24 days during the year, unduly disadvantaged employees who had to be absent from work during the year due to personal grounds of parenthood, pregnancy, and health status, which is discriminatory.

Once again, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended that the Minister of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities adopts the rules on minimum requirements for accessibility of goods and services available to the public. These rules are necessary for the efficient implementation of the provisions of the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act, and the fact that they still do not exist is only worsening the situation of persons with disabilities.

When considering an act of alleged discrimination due to the inaccessibility of media content to persons with visual impairments or reading disabilities, the Advocate found that the legislation does not even set minimum requirements for the accessibility of goods and services available to the public. This is also the reason why no discrimination was found in the said case, closed by the Advocate in February 2021.

In the past, partly also due to this case, the Advocate already recommended that the Government and ministries adopt minimum requirements related to the measures ensuring the accessibility of goods and services to persons with disabilities. The Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (the ZIMI) stipulates that discrimination on the grounds of disability in the accessibility of goods and services is strictly prohibited. Minimum accessibility requirements should have been prescribed by the minister responsible for disability care as early as 2011.

The Advocate now reiterates his recommendation; when deciding on the complaint of a petitioner about alleged discrimination in the media in the case of the aforementioned decision of the Advocate from 2021, the Administrative Court also confirmed that it is not possible to allege any discriminatory behaviour when it comes to accessing goods and services if regulations laying down minimum accessibility requirements have not yet been adopted.

The absence of the said rules therefore complicates the implementation of the provisions of the ZIMI and reduces the degree of protection against discrimination for persons with disabilities based on the Protection against Discrimination Act. Therefore, the Advocate recommended that the minister immediately adopts the rules on the accessibility of goods and services.

 

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended that the Ministry of Health and employers’ associations should ensure that migrant workers are also informed, in an understandable manner, about their rights and the possibility of receiving health care in clinics for people who do not have a personal physician.

Access to information about health care is an essential component of ensuring equality and non-discrimination when it comes to accessing health care services. Informing people about health care services in such a way that the said information is understandable to a diverse population is also considered by the WHO to be an increasingly important aspect of public health planning. Effective communication helps prevent exacerbation of illnesses, disability, and death.

According to the Statistical Office, 11%, i.e. approximately 100,000 people, employed in Slovenia at the end of October 2019, were migrants. Due to their poor knowledge of the Slovenian language, they can find themselves in situations where they cannot access simple, understandable, and comprehensive information about their health care options. This can be the reason for their poor treatment in health care, which is prohibited by law.

Therefore, the Advocate recommended that the Ministry of Health should also provide easy access to understandable and comprehensive information on health care options in clinics for people without a personal doctor to migrant workers who have a medical insurance but do not have a personal doctor. The said information should also be provided in languages they understand, and in easily accessible formats.

Furthermore, the Advocate also recommended that employers’ associations should urge their members to inform migrant workers about their rights and about the possibilities offered by this type of health care.

By preparing two recommendations, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality responded to the draft amendment of the Financial Operations, Insolvency Proceedings, and Compulsory Dissolution Act (the FOIPCDA). To the Ministry of Justice that drafted the law, the Advocate recommended to supplement said law with an explanation of the reasons and goals behind the introduction of an upper age limit for performing the work of a liquidator, recommending not to introduce said upper age limit. The Advocate recommended that the Ministry also amends the part governing the revocation of the license to perform the work of a liquidator.

The draft proposal for the amendments of the bankruptcy legislation stipulates that only a person who has not yet reached the age of 70 should be appointed as a liquidator in bankruptcy proceedings. However, it is unclear whether a particular goal is intended to be pursued through such a solution. It is only on the basis of this that it would be possible to determine whether this is an example of a permissible exception in the prohibition of age discrimination.

In the recommendations responding to the proposed amendments to the FOIPCDA, the Advocate pointed out that having reached 70 years of age cannot possibly be the only criterion for assessing whether someone is still capable of performing certain work, in this particular case the work of a liquidator. Such a limitation of labour rights should be based on professional arguments and data testifying to the fact that this is the appropriate solution to achieve the objective in question, and that the selected legal solution is the only possible and also the only proportionate method to do so. Therefore, the Advocate recommended to the Minister of Justice to either further justify the proposal to introduce an age limit in the appointment of liquidators from the point of view of protection against discrimination, or to not introduce such an age limit.

In his second recommendation on the proposed amendments to the legislation related to liquidators, the Advocate wrote that it would also be reasonable to use the amendment to change the part of the applicable law which regulates the withdrawal of the license to perform the work of a liquidator due to the loss of capacity to contract.

The Advocate pointed out that, after the entry into force of the Family Code and the revised Non-Contentious Civil Procedure Act, it is no longer possible to restrict someone’s capacity to contract. Those processes were replaced by the institution of guardianship. Therefore, the Advocate recommended to the Ministry that the revocation of the license to perform the work of a liquidator should no longer be related to the restriction of the capacity to contract, but should instead be related to the condition that the liquidator is no longer capable of independently performing the legal transactions that are crucial to this profession.

The Advocate also added that an amendment of the FOIPCDA should provide for the determination on a case-to-case basis of whether a placement under guardianship constitutes said limitations due to which it is permissible to interfere with the right to perform the job of a liquidator.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended to the Ministry of Health that health care providers should enable the use of all methods of obtaining an appointment as provided for under the Patients’ Rights Act and the Rules on the Referral of Patients, i.e. in person (at the health clinic), by phone, by mail or electronically. The Advocate observes that some vulnerable groups are in a worse position when it comes to obtaining an appointment with their personal doctor. The reason for this is that some health centres fail to follow the applicable rules on possible methods for obtaining an appointment.

As part of consultations conducted, the Advocate was acquainted with the issues encountered by patients who wished to contact their personal doctor. The accessibility of family doctors’ clinics has deteriorated, mainly due to the introduction of electronic methods of obtaining an appointment available to patients. Other possibilities of communicating with the doctor, which are otherwise determined by law, have been narrowed in scope as a result.

This mainly causes problems to vulnerable groups when they try to access health care. Due to personal grounds of age, disability, language, health, and financial situation, they are in a disadvantaged situation because they cannot use new technologies, do not know how to do so, or are unable to do so.

The Advocate verified the communication accessibility of primary physicians’ clinics in health centres and with contractual practitioners. People with fewer digital skills noted that it was very hard for them to reach their physicians by phone and in person.

“I can only talk to the nurse after three or four days, and even then, I can only talk to her from 9am to noon. And, of course, the line is also busy in the meantime. Outside of these hours, you can only get the answering machine. But you don’t even have the possibility to leave a message on the machine.

“I haven’t been able to see my new doctor since a year and a half. I have to get regular check-ups once every two years since I have throat issues. I called, I wrote an e-mail, and nobody answered so I went there in person.”

“Opening the application is not a problem since I’m computer literate, but anything after that is a gamble. You need different codes to access the application in the first place…and then you wait. And you wait for them to respond. You get the answer. But if you’re a bit distracted or confused, it’s over. Sometimes, the system doesn’t work either.”

The Advocate found that, in some clinics, the possibility of obtaining an appointment by phone was not enabled at all times during the opening hours of the clinic, but could only be used for a couple of hours a day. The information about the methods of obtaining an appointment provided by answering machines were incomplete or were provided too quickly for the patients to write them down or memorise them. Some clinics did not have answering machines or only had answering machines with incomplete or outdated information. Others did not enable the possibility of obtaining an appointment by mail and in person (i.e. by visiting the clinic).

Therefore, the Advocate recommended to the Ministry of Health that healthcare providers should enable the use of all methods of obtaining an appointment as provided for under the Patients’ Rights Act and the Rules on the Referral of Patients, the Management of Waiting Lists, and the Maximum Permissible Waiting Times, i.e. in person (at the health clinic), by phone, by mail or electronically.

The Advocate recommended that phone calls made for obtaining an appointment at the primary health care level should be made possible throughout the entire office hours. If the clinic is unavailable at this time, a call-back should be made to the patient on the same day. All clinics should also have automatic answering machines outside their office hours in order to provide information on office hours and possible methods for patients to obtain an appointment.

In the recommendation made to the Ministry, the Advocate also stated that any limitation of the time when patients are allowed to send their e-mails is unacceptable. Therefore, the Advocate recommended that electronic communication with doctors should be made available without any time limits.

Miha Lobnik, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality: “The digitalisation or the introduction of electronic means of communication must not replace nor narrow the scope of other regulatory possibilities for accessing one’s primary physician. The covert doctrine of restricting access to waiting rooms for those in need of a doctor is unacceptable.”

The Advocate found discrimination based on the personal ground of the place of residence when it comes to the process of choosing a family doctor. A family doctor and a health centre where she worked refused to take on a patient because the said patient did not reside in the municipality in which the health centre was located. The place of residence of the insured person is, however, not an admissible reason for a doctor’s refusal to take on a patient since, according to the Health Care and Health Insurance Act, insured persons are free to choose their own family doctor.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality received a complaint where the complainant stated that, in the process of choosing a family doctor, they have been discriminated against due to the personal ground of place of residence. After losing their family doctor who left to work in another health centre in the neighbouring municipality, the patient accessed the data available from the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia and found that their previous doctor is still taking on patients at her new place of work. The patient went to the said health centre in order to choose her once more as their doctor but was prevented from doing so. The health centre indicated that they were giving priority to insured persons from the municipalities that have founded the health centre.

In the discrimination investigation procedure, the health centre explained to the Advocate that this particular clinic was not a newly opened clinic but that the doctor came to work at the health centre to replace another doctor. The patients of the physician who had stopped working at the clinic were notified of the change and informed that they must opt for the replacing doctor; in the process, they were treated as a priority. They also stated that the doctor and the health centre in question refused to take on said patient due the Rules on Mandatory Health Insurance, which stipulate that the insured persons usually choose their personal doctor in the municipality where their permanent or temporary residence is located.

In his decision, the Advocate explained that the legislation does not regulate the transfer of patients from doctors who leave a particular health centre to doctors who replace the said doctors. It is only stipulated that doctors must take on all insured persons that choose them as their personal doctor, unless if they have no more vacancies. The Advocate also stated that the right to freely choose a doctor is not affected by the provision from the Rules on Mandatory Health Insurance stating that the personal doctor of an insured person is, in principle, a family doctor practicing at the location of the permanent or temporary residence of the insured person. The Rules explicitly state that, if an insured person chooses a personal doctor outside their place of residence, they are not entitled to receive any reimbursement of the travel costs related to the said choice.

As a result, the Advocate found discrimination based on all circumstances of the case. The decisive criterion for the doctor’s refusal to take on the insured person was namely the personal ground of their place of residence. This is one of the personal grounds based on which no one should be treated unequally.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality recommended to the Ministry of Infrastructure and to Slovenian Railways to carry out, in a timely manner, all necessary activities to adapt the accessibility of trains and other railway infrastructure to persons with disabilities. It was pointed out that, according to the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act, the deadline for providing accessible options in railway traffic will expire in December 2025.

In November 2022, the Advocate of the Principle of Equality found that the Infrastructure Directorate, a constituent body of the Ministry of Infrastructure, failed to comply with the prohibition of discrimination provision when upgrading the Grosuplje railway station. As part of the renovation, an underpass was built that is not adapted to persons with disabilities.

The Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (the EOPDA) stipulates, among other things, that the public railway infrastructure manager and the railway line transport operator must adapt trains and other railway infrastructure to persons with reduced mobility and sensory impairments. They must also provide information in a form adapted to persons with disabilities. The deadline for this adaptation expires on 11 December 2025.

Therefore, the Advocate recommended that the Ministry of Infrastructure and to Slovenian Railways start carrying out, in a timely manner, all activities necessary to adapt the accessibility of railway traffic to persons with disabilities.

The recommendation comes after the Advocate drew the attention of all State authorities, municipalities and institutions in the field of public administration services, education, justice, culture, and sports to the approaching deadline for ensuring the accessibility of facilities in public use.

The Advocate of the Principle of Equality found that three guests were discriminated against in a catering establishment in the area of Murska Sobota on the basis of their personal grounds of nationality or ethnic origin. The waitress refused to serve them because of their Roma nationality.

 The Advocate received a complaint challenging the conduct of a bar in Černelavci which allegedly refused to serve three guests solely because of their Roma origin. According to the report, the waitress openly told three of them that she will not serve them drinks because they were Roma, as a group of Roma had quarrelled and got into a fight in a bar the day before their visit. She also allegedly added that, if she served them, she would have to do the same for other Roma people.

In the discrimination investigation procedure, the Advocate confirmed the allegations from the complaint. The duly authorised lawyer of the catering establishment only explained to the Advocate that the waitress refused to serve the guests because she was convinced that one of them was involved in a physical attack on her and was also involved in the fight that took place in the days prior to their visit to the establishment. The Advocate inquired with the local police administration and learned that none of the three guests that the waitress refused to serve were in the bar at the time of the said fight. Generally speaking, the police is also responsible for punishing persons for disorderly conduct, which is not in the domain of the bar and its waiters.

The Advocate thus concluded that by refusing to serve the three guests solely because they were Roma, the catering establishment violated the prohibition of discrimination in the field of offering goods and services to the public, based on the personal ground of nationality or ethnic origin.