Unemployed must accept job offers from further afield

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In August 1999, the Finnish government decided that in future unemployed people in many districts will have to accept work from a wider geographical area than earlier, or lose their benefits. One aim of this change is to reduce recruitment bottlenecks. Employers have long been pushing for such measures to "activate" unemployed people and alleviate bottlenecks, while trade unions wanted to retain the present situation.

In its budget negotiations in August 1999, the Finnish government decided on an amendment to increase the mobility of job-seekers, whereby public employment agencies will be directed to offer jobs from locations within the relevant "employment district", even where these locations do not have the best means of transportation. Unemployed people in Finland are obliged to accept jobs offered which are located within their employment district, under threat of the loss of unemployment benefits, as determined by the labour commission responsible for the local public employment agency. The amendment, which has the effect of widening the employment district, will be applied to those areas of the country where job opportunities for regular employment within the employment district are more limited than average.

The basis for the reform is what is termed the "principle of normality", whereby the aim is to create the same conditions for unemployed people as those pertaining on average to employed people. The former must accept a job in areas where other inhabitants of their municipality normally work. It is anticipated that when the employment district for job-seekers is more limited than the realistic chances for work, the district will now be enlarged. According to present legislation, the employment district for job seekers is defined as the area where "people usually go to work". New criteria for defining employment districts are to be stipulated in autumn 1999 by parliament.

Behind the widening of the employment district lies the threat of labour shortages in certain fields as unemployment decreases. The most problematic occupations in terms of labour supply are sales representatives, cleaners and telesales staff. In other fields, recruitment problems are caused by the fact that skills among job-seekers do not match employer needs. Many of these employers are seeking well-educated professionals in modern technology fields, who are difficult to find among unemployed people.

Enlargement of the employment district for job-seekers is part of the government's labour market "activation" policy and has long been demanded by employers. Trade unions do not feel that the amendment is justified and consider the present legislation as sufficient.

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