Moderation for labour law changes – ensuring industrial peace for academics

Finnish society and working life are based on commonly drafted agreements and trust. From a working life perspective, the new Government Programme throws a spanner in the works of our agreement system. The working life policies put forth in the Government Programme will unilaterally weaken employment terms and security for those who are unemployed, have a low income, or are employed with a fixed-term contract. At their worst, the policies of the Government Programme will further exacerbate the uncertainty already shadowing the working careers of academics.

Together with other Akava affiliates, the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers has expressed strong criticism of the Government’s proposed working life policies. Our message is that all matters must be negotiated and agreed upon jointly by the Government and social partners. A unilateral dictation policy has no place in Finnish society.

Foreign academics residing in Finland have justifiably presented their concerns about the Government’s proposed stricter rules regarding resident permits. A restrictive immigration policy runs counter to the fact that, at the same time, the need for foreign labour is enormous and will grow strongly in the future. Read Miia Ijäs-Idrobo’s blog.

The Government Programme contains numerous entries restricting the bargaining system and the right to strike. An export-driven wage model would abolish the agreement system and cement the pay gap in low-income sectors, which would affect female-dominated sectors in particular. The significant increase in compensatory fines for unlawful industrial action that would be imposed unilaterally on employee unions and associations would essentially put an end to unlawful industrial action. Unlawful industrial action is rare in Finland, but when such action is deemed necessary, it would be more important to resolve the root causes of the issue rather to impose unreasonable fines. As a new element, the Government proposes imposing a personal sanction of EUR 200 on employees for continuing a strike deemed illegal by the Labour Court. This proposal is unreasonable since the decision regarding a strike is always made by a union or association.

The weakened terms of employment proposed by the Government Programme would particularly affect those working under fixed-term contracts. The possibility for unfounded fixed-term employment would increase the succession of such contracts and could especially affect young people and women. Fixed-term employment is frustratingly common in the university sector and, already now, research funding is used too often as the justification for fixed-term arrangements. In the future, a relevant reason would be sufficient to dismiss employees on personal grounds rather than the currently necessary relevant and weighty reason. This entry increases uncertainty and weakens employment protection. Government Programme entries concerning benefits and allowances will particularly affect those working in atypical and fixed-term employment. The Government proposes, among other changes, the staggering and quite significant weakening of earnings-related unemployment security, the extension of the employment condition for the unemployment benefit to 12 months, and the periodisation of holiday compensations. For those in fixed-term employments, these changes might mean that the employment condition would not be met, thereby leaving them without unemployment security. Furthermore, the holiday allowance payable at the end of the employment relationship would prevent such individuals from receiving unemployment benefits during the phasing period. Read our statement published on 3 October 2023.

The shortening of the notice period for lay-offs and the related wage payment obligation to seven days also induces uncertainty and weakens employment protection. The Government’s proposal for the first day of sick leave to be unpaid will likely increase the number of employees working while ill or extend sick leaves unnecessarily, since the proposal does not apply to sick leaves of more than five days. Entries that weaken employment relationships will also significantly hinder the cooperation between employers and employees, the purpose of which is to further dialogue and enable employees to exert influence in the workplace. The scope of application of the Co-operation Act will, in future, be limited to companies employing at least 50 people. More than 90 per cent of Finnish workplaces are companies with fewer than 10 employees, so this means that dialogue between employers and employees would be weakened in the majority of Finnish workplaces. Genuine dialogue and negotiations would also be further weakened by halving the time allotted to change negotiations.

The removal of the increment for the first 16 working days of the parental allowance and child increases will weaken the livelihood of families. Among the large and significant proposals for changes to working life is the discontinuation of the adult education allowance and job alternation leave as of 2024.

Finnish society is overindebted and needs stability and increased employment, but the Government’s proposed toolkit will not solve this problem. On the contrary, it punishes those who are involuntarily working in atypical and fixed-term employment relationships and creates instability in the labour market. A large portion of the employment relationships of researchers are atypical, fragmented, and intermittent.

An organisation’s most important resource, both now and in the future, is satisfied and competent personnel. We will continue to work with the entire Akava community to advocate for a better and higher-quality working life.

Read more about our guidelines.

Nina Hahtela
The writer is FUURT’s senior adviser.