Finland: Job quality in temporary and part-time work

​A Finnish study on job quality finds that people working in part-time jobs and on temporary contracts experience poorer job quality – in many important respects – than their counterparts in permanent, full-time jobs. They have fewer opportunities for skills development and less discretion in their work. However, they tend to enjoy a better atmosphere and team spirit in the workplace, and they experience less mental and physical strain.

Background

The study, ‘Job quality and later work career in part-time and temporary work’, looks at whether an increased use of non-standard job contracts has caused an erosion in job quality. While previous studies have examined the job quality of part-time and temporary workers, the fact that employees on such contracts form a very heterogeneous group has received less attention. The study's findings about the long-term effects of non-standard contracts is also relevant to the discussion on prolonging working lives – a major focus of Finnish economic and labour market policy. 

Financed by the Finnish Work Environment Fund, the study seeks to provide information on how job quality varies between different types of part-time and temporary jobs, and how it differs from the job quality of workers on full-time and permanent contracts. It also looks at how part-time and temporary employment affects a person’s career, compared with how they would have fared in a full-time, permanent job.

The research was carried out by Satu Ojala and Jouko Nätti from the University of Tampere in collaboration with Merja Kauhanen from the Labour Institute for Economic Research, an independent and non-profit research organisation funded mainly by trade unions.

Data and methodology

The study draws on the Finnish Quality of Work Life Surveys, carried out by Statistics Finland in 1990, 1997, 2003, 2008 and 2013. It analyses how job quality in different types of nonstandard employment differs from that of full-time and permanent employment. ‘Job quality’ is defined by the following criteria:

  • wages;
  • job security and physical safety;
  • the skills required (including lifelong learning and career development);
  • autonomy/discretion over job tasks;
  • work effort and working hours (including the flexibility and timing of working hours).

The survey data was merged with register-based data from 1970–2011 on the development of individual careers, taking into consideration the number of months of unemployment/employment and absenteeism. The analysis of long-term effects is based on follow-up periods of between four and eight years after the end of the temporary employment relationship.

Full vs part-time employment

The study finds that, in some respects (such as atmosphere and team spirit), part-time workers enjoy better job quality than full-time workers. They also experience less mental and physical strain, and less work intensity. Negative aspects of part-time work include fewer opportunities for skills development and less work autonomy. Part-time workers also do more night work, and shift and weekend work, and have fewer opportunities for employee-driven flexible working time arrangements.

Even within the group of part-time workers, the perception of job quality differs. Employees who work part-time because no full-time jobs are available to them (not because part-time work is a voluntary choice) experience the worst job quality. They experience greater job insecurity than full-time employees, as well as less autonomy, poorer career opportunities and fewer opportunities to receive employer-funded training. Employees who work part time for health-related reasons, to accommodate childcare responsibilities or for other voluntary reasons do not perceive their job quality differently from how full-time employees perceive theirs. 

Temporary vs permanent employment

Temporary employees perceive the atmosphere and team spirit at their workplace as being at the same level as do permanent employees (or even at a higher level). They also perceive less mental and physical strain. However, temporary employees have much lower wages, even after such issues as the length of the employment relationship, sector, age and gender are controlled for. Indicators related to employment security and physical safety, participation in training and discretion regarding job tasks are also systematically at lower levels than among equivalent employees in permanent employment.

Among temporary employees, however, there are also considerable variations. Project workers view their job quality as generally positive – in many ways viewing it better than permanent employees view theirs. However, for other groups of temporary workers there are specific negative aspects:

  • stand-in and on-call employees have more night and shift work;
  • seasonal workers experience greater physical strain;
  • temporary agency workers have less discretion over their work tasks and working hours.

And these negative aspects are intensified for employees who are working involuntarily in temporary employment.

Impact of temporary employment on career

The study found that temporary work has a clear effect on an individual’s career. Those people in temporary employment in the study’s base year had fewer months in employment and more months in unemployment or absenteeism than did workers in permanent employment. The long-term effects of part-time jobs are less evident: no statistically significant differences were seen in length of spells of unemployment or absenteeism. In the study, part-time workers were divided into those with temporary and those with permanent employment, which further verified that it was the temporary nature of the job rather than the part-time arrangement that led to more fragmented careers, in comparison with workers in permanent and full-time jobs.

Commentary

The temporary employment rate in Finland is currently at 15.5%, slightly above the EU28 average of 14.0%, while part-time work (15.4%) is significantly below the EU average. Since the 2000s, part-time work and temporary employment contracts have been major issues for many Finnish trade unions, and several improvements have been made to the employment conditions of workers on such contracts. According to the Finnish Employment Contracts Act, a fixed-term contract is an exception from the general rule that an employment contract is valid until further notice; since 2013, however, an employer has to justify ending a fixed-term contract.

The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) believes that non-standard contracts are important tools for a dynamic and flexible labour market. Along the same lines, as part of its plan to remove barriers to employment and encourage companies to grow, the current government has sought relaxation of the rules on fixed-term employment. The government's initial objective was to allow temporary contracts of less than a year without the employer needing to specify a particular reason for using this form of employment. The trade union confederations, however, have strongly objected to this proposal and the government is amending its proposal, so that such a relaxation of the rules would only apply to people who have been unemployed long term. Viewed against the background of the study, it can be seen that increased temporary employment brings risks. The authors also point out that poorer job quality, especially in involuntary temporary work, can negatively affect productivity. 

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