Agreement reached on 'job alternation' leave

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In September 2002, a tripartite working group agreed on the continuation for another five years of Finland's experimental 'job alternation' scheme, which enables employees to take a period of sabbatical leave while being temporarily replaced by an unemployed person. The agreement increases the compensation for longer-serving workers who take leave, and introduces a requirement of 10 years prior employment for entitlement to leave. The deal has removed a barrier to the conclusion of a new national incomes policy agreement later in 2002 .

In September 2002, an agreement on the continuation of the current 'job alternation' sabbatical leave scheme for five years was reached by a tripartite working group. The intention had been that the scheme should have been made permanent in spring 2002, but the proposal fell due to employer resistance (FI0206102N).

The dispute concerned the length of service required in order to qualify for a period of sabbatical leave. It has now been agreed that 10 years' employment should be required in order to be entitled to an initial period of leave. In order to be able to take a subsequent period of leave, the employee will have to remain in employment for another five years after the previous leave has ended. The substitute worker who must be employed to replace the employee on leave should, if possible, be a young person with recent university or professional education, or a long-term unemployed person. In the event that there is no employee of this kind on the labour office's register, an unemployed person whose need for a job is the greatest should be hired. The sabbatical leave compensation will increase to 80% of unemployment benefit for employees who have been in employment for at least 25 years, but remain at 70% for other workers.

The job alternation leave scheme was launched as an experiment in 1996, with the aim of cutting unemployment and helping employees 'cope' at work (FI9704110F). The present scheme provides for a period of leave of between 90 and 359 days, agreed voluntarily between the employer and employee, with an unemployed person obligatorily hired as a substitute worker during the absence of the permanent employee. During the leave, employees receive compensation equal to 70% of unemployment benefit. In the current 2001-2 incomes policy agreement, it was decided that the experimental sabbatical scheme would be continued for two years, and a tripartite working group was established to examine the conditions for making it a permanent arrangement (FI0011167F).

The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) is satisfied with the deal reached in September. According to SAK department manager, Kirsti Palanko-Laaka, the continuation of the tripartitely-agreed sabbatical leave scheme will clear the table of the issues resulting from the current incomes policy agreement. SAK is pleased that the scheme will now be directed particularly at those workers who have worked longer. The organisation had made on agreement on continuation of the scheme a precondition for starting talks on the next central incomes policy agreement, due this autumn (FI0209101F). Other trade unions and employers' organisations are also satisfied with the sabbatical leave deal.

The sabbatical leave scheme has mostly been used in those parts of the public sector, such as healthcare, where female workers predominate and where the employees have the greatest difficulties in 'coping' at work. The scheme is also seen as providing opportunities for unemployed people to enter working life.

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