Increase in atypical work weakens employees' motivation

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In January 2001, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) published the findings of a survey investigating the views and work situation of its members. The results show a significant increase in "atypical" employment contracts. The effects of this development are found to include a lower commitment to company goals among fixed-term and part-time employees than among permanent, full-time employees.

In January 2001, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) published the findings of a survey which investigated the views of its members and their position in working life. The survey is carried out at five-year intervals, and nearly 10,000 of SAK's 1 million or so members responded to the current survey. The central finding of the study is that there has been an increase in "atypical" employment contracts - defined as part-time, fixed-term or other contracts differing from full-time, open-ended employment.

According to the findings, about one woman in three and one man in five is already working in part-time and/or fixed-term employment. Employers seem not to hire these workers on permanent employment contracts, even if the fixed-term job is due to last over a long period. The average fixed-term employment relationship lasts three years. The increased use of part-time and fixed-term employment contracts also seems to have negative effects for employers. These workers do not commit themselves to company goals to the same extent as full-time permanent employees. They are also less interested in matters concerning their employers. Furthermore, the majority of part-time or fixed-term workers find that they cannot influence their own work.

Increased proportion of fixed-term workers

During the past five years, the proportion of fixed-term workers among respondents to the SAK survey has increased from 14% to 26%. The increase in fixed-term employment has been most pronounced in the public sector, where about 30% of the SAK members were performing atypical work at the time when the survey was carried out (in January-February 2000).

Fixed-term work concerns women to an even greater extent: more than one in three female respondents (35%) works on a fixed-term basis. Five years ago (when the survey was last carried out), the corresponding proportion was 19%. The majority (53%) of employees under 25 do fixed-term work.

Based on the survey, it is estimated that almost 100,000 SAK members were working under a contract that lasted less than one year. Together with 160,000 unemployed members, they form a group which can be characterised by uncertainty in getting established on the labour market and problems in obtaining a steady income.

Furthermore, fewer and fewer SAK members are working in regular day work - during the past 16 years, the proportion has dropped from 71% to 57%. The proportion involved in shiftwork and other flexible forms of work has increased. Less than half of the private service sector employees surveyed work in regular day work.

Goals: job stability and security

SAK members clearly seek job security. When asked about their goals in relation to work, the most important goal cited by respondents was job stability and certainty. This was the most important aspect for over half of the respondents (53%). Every fourth respondent considered their salary as most important, and the content of the work was placed first by 12% of SAK members.

The future, too, causes worries to some extent. A quarter of respondents (24%) feared that they were not capable enough for the future labour market, and almost a third (28%) were afraid of unemployment. One in three (35%) felt a need for further training in their work, and 40% would consider another type of training for themselves. As many as one in five (20%) would like to quit work completely.

Incomes-related unemployment benefit and the supervision of wage earners' interests were cited as the most important reasons for belonging to a trade union. For men, the supervision role is clearly a more important reason for belonging to a union than unemployment security, while women put more emphasis on unemployment security and safety.

The majority of employees surveyed hoped that all agreements concerning the weakening or improvement of employment contract terms would be concluded at the sectoral or workplace level.

Statistics Finland survey

The figures indicating a high proportion of fixed-term employees in the SAK survey depend on its definition of atypical workers. January 2001 also saw the publication of a survey by Statistics Finland, "Fixed-term employment in Finland during the 1990s". According to this report, the proportion of fixed-term employees among all wage earners increased until 1997, but at the end of the decade it dropped slightly. In 2000, 20% of women and 13% of men worked in fixed-term employment. The renewal of fixed-term employment contracts at the same workplace is more common among women than men, but also among men this phenomenon has become more common since 1997. In spring 2000, "chain contracts" were most common in the healthcare sector, where 42% of fixed-term employees had signed at least a fifth employment contract at the same workplace. Short-term contracts are more common in the younger age groups and, according to the report, are concentrated more in the public sector. Above all, the importance of the municipal sector as an employer of fixed-term workers increased during the 1990s.

PT labour force survey

According to the latest employment labour force survey from the Employers' Confederation of Service Industries (Palvelutyönantajat, PT), published in January 2001, employment contracts in the private service sector are mainly open-ended ones. The survey indicates that permanent employment makes up 90% of all employment contracts. The difference between this survey and the one conducted by SAK stems from the definition of fixed-term employees: in the SAK study, part-time workers were also counted among the temporary workers. Part-time employment contracts are much used in the service sector. According to the PT labour force survey, the proportion of part-time work contracts is 29% of the total, and 85% of these are permanent.

Commentary

The recent surveys give a somewhat contradictory picture of the extent of the fixed-term work phenomenon. In any case, it is incontrovertible that the number of fixed-term contracts increased considerably in the 1990s. In the private sector, the situation has improved during the past few years, in that such employment contracts have increasingly been changed into permanent ones. Fixed-term work seems to be more of a public sector problem. Even if there has been a strong growth trend in the Finnish economy during recent years, the position of the public sector as an employer is, according to the survey findings, poor. However, there are reports from the municipal sector that in the problem sector of healthcare, permanent employment contracts are becoming more common. In many municipalities the economic situation is good, so the problem depends greatly on political will. The state is still burdened by the debt from the recession of the early 1990s, though this is not in fact very alarming when compared with other European countries. In any case, changing fixed-term employment contracts into permanent ones requires good economic growth, which Finland has been able to enjoy for several years now. At many workplaces, however, the atmosphere of economic downturn seems to have persisted, and efforts ought to be made to shake this off. (Juha Hietanen, Ministry of Labour)

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