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The Active Employment Model Sparks a Mass Protest, Cripples the Society on Friday

A man using his finger to send a message to the government during a mass protest in September 2015 at the Railway Square in Helsinki. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Finland’s presidential elections are over in a landslide but along with the reintroduction of President Niinistö, new issues now rage at the forefront of Finnish society. Perhaps the most controversial is that of the unemployment model set for 2018 and beyond.

In an effort to “activate” the unemployed, a new Finnish government policy has drawn an outcry from various trade unions, training institutions and those depending on their livelihood from the government in response to a lack of substantial employment.

The change in national policy, already in effect as of January 1, 2018, requires those granted unemployment benefits to report their efforts to their unemployment office every three months. If efforts by job seekers are insufficient, benefits can be cut by 4.65 percent, or the equivalent of a day’s worth of assistance, over a period of 65 days. Job seekers can meet eligibility criteria by working at least 18 hours a week, earning at least 240 euros from self-employment in two months or taking part in activities enhancing their employment prospects for at least five days over a three-month period.

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The Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions, or SAK, a labor confederation representing one million employees organized in 18 affiliate trade unions, has organized a protest march in response to the active model. Aside from proposing a more lenient and alternative restructure to the government plans, SAK are taking to the streets on February 2nd, starting at the Senate Square at 11:00.

According to the group’s current Facebook event page, 3,000 people will be joining the protests and over 6,500 are interested in participating. Included among these participants will be three affiliates that are a part of Akava, the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland.  “Our affiliates are free to participate if they please to. However, Akava as a confederation has decided not to participate,” said Jyrki Kemppainen, head of communications for Akava. When asked why Akava would not participate as an organization, Kemppainen stated the organization’s cautious stance: “It is getting too political.”

On Friday, the reach of the protest will extend far into working society. Factories will be closed, along with a temporary halt on importing and exporting of cars. Public transport will grind to a complete halt and critical services required for a functional society, such as waste disposal services, will be suspended.

Public transport will grind to a complete halt and critical services required for a functional society, such as waste disposal services, will be suspended.

 

Minister of Employment is one of the creative minds behind the active employment model. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The active model is also not in the best interest of some of the more vulnerable portions of the Finnish population. The government’s efforts mainly focus on reforming the benefits structure but improving the employability of the unemployed is a challenge. In many cases, those who are long-term unemployed report illnesses preventing them from working. Based on past research, harsher conditions will not help improve the health of such populations. A different collection of measures would be needed to ensure inclusivity and proper facilitation for such cases, such as medical screening, rehabilitation and adapted working conditions.

A report published by the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (KELA) and others says that the model lacks practicality. Employment offices do not have sufficient staff to handle all the activation reports and to properly carry out all the interviews required to fulfill monitoring and compliance in such a program.

The location of residence of the unemployed around Finland has also triggered concerns. People living outside of the capital city area have much fewer options to find part-time or temporary work and participate in training.

Chairman Niko Simola of Pardia, the Federation of Salaried Employees, echoed similar sentiments about the restructure and spoke about comparable aspects to the Danish model. “Population density is more centralized in Denmark making access easier for providing and receiving services. Distances between people are different within the two countries. The problem is that there are sanctions copied from the Danish system. However, the Danes have more resources for officers to handle the situation. The unemployed here will face sanctions and obligations but there simply aren’t enough services to assist them,” said Simola.

“In the long run, this model might not work properly and end up punishing the unemployed.”

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