Know your rights: Working on a Fixed-term Contract at the University?

Originally published in Acatiimi 4/2020

The Finnish Employment Contracts Act states that an employment contract is valid indefinitely unless it has, for a justified reason, been made for a specific fixed term.

Contracts made for a fixed term on the employer’s initiative without a justified reason shall be considered valid indefinitely. It is prohibited to use consecutive fixed-term contracts when the amount or total duration of fixed term contracts or the totality of such contracts indicates a permanent need of labour.

Keep in mind that there must be a legally justified reason for each and every one of your employment contracts.

What then is considered a legally justified reason for a fixed term contract? First, working as a substitute for an employee who is on a sick leave, parental leave and so on, is usually a legally justified reason. Second, the work the employee does may be of temporary nature, for example working on a PhD. A PhD work is not meant to last indefinitely, so therefore it is a basis for a fixed term contract.

Project work is a bit tricky, since it may or may not be a justified reason for a fixed term contract. If an employee is hired for one specific project due to their expertise that is only needed in this one project and the employment contract and the work duties are closely related to the duration of the project, then there may be a justified reason for a fixed term contract.

However, the way the universities typically organize their operation, which is usually through different projects that begin and end and where the employee does the same work for different projects that come and go, does not constitute a legally justified reason for a fixed term contract. Also, it is good to remember that outside funding, nor is the tenure track or the four stage career model or other universities’ own career models are not a justified reasons for using fixed term contracts.

Yet approximately 70 percent of the teaching and research staff at the universities are working under fixed term employment contracts. Also the amount of the fixed-term contracts used with the administrative staff is very high. In comparison, in other sectors in Finland, the number of employees working on fixed-term contracts is around 20 percent. So there is still a long way for the universities to go to reach that.

What should you, a fixed term employee, then do, if you have been working for years at the university and still have not got a permanent contract? First, you should speak up and ask for a permanent contract from your employer. Second, you should contact your local shop steward (employees’ rep) or your union lawyer and discuss the matter with them. We can help by assessing your situation and give our opinion whether there has been a justified reason for all the fixed term contracts or not. We can also help negotiate with the university to get you a permanent contract. In cases where there legally should have been a permanent contract and the contract is not renewed, we can often also help with negotiating a settlement.


Text by Mia Weckman
Director of Advocacy, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers


For more information, please visit Finlex, or see the FUURT website on fixed-term employment.