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Finland’s changing labour market

| By Carl-Gustav Lindén

Finland is struggling to emerge from the economic crisis, and it is being felt in the labour market. Only one in ten Finns believe the situation will improve this year. Nearly half of them believe things will get worse, according to a working life barometre from the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

Statistics Finland carried out 1,000 interviews about workplace conditions in the autumn of 2014, and the results were presented in early February.

Although Finland still has one of the best labour markets in the EU, figures are in the red for the fourth year running. People are even less optimistic about the future now than during the first two years of the 1990s, the last time Finland suffered from mass unemployment.

Expectations are particularly low within the public sector, for obvious reasons: public debt is mounting while the government plans to dramatically reduce the number of municipalities and to reorganise public services. Industry workers have the most positive outlook. Industry jobs were cut as soon as the financial crisis hit in 2008-2009, and now the sector is hiring again.

Rising unemployment

The pessimism is also mirrored in rising unemployment figures. In January 359,600 unemployed Finns were looking for jobs, which is a 10 percent increase in 12 months. The fastest growing group is the long term unemployed, where the increase has been nearly 20 percent. Total unemployment stands at 8.8 percent, up 0.3 percentage points on last year.

Maija Lyly-Yrjänäinen, senior advisor at the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, believes things are not as bleak as that. She points out that Finnish workers enjoy the most flexible working hours in Europe, while their opportunities to work from home have improved too. Women and people in their lower middle age with small children in particular should now be able to enjoy a better work/life balance.

According to a major European company survey (Eurofound 2013), Finns have the best opportunities to work flexible hours. 57 percent of all workplaces allow employees to decide when they start and finish their working day. The European average is 32 percent.

Finnish workers can also make more use of overtime in order to take more annual leave. Larger Finnish workplaces in particular have been going through a bit of a revolution. Half of those questioned in the survey said their work tasks had changed and that new methods had been introduced. This included new work processes as well as new products and services which open up for new ideas.

"People now have more opportunities to develop their skills and to take part in the development of their workplace," says Lyly-Yrjänäinen. White collar workers with higher educations have been noticing the changes the most.  

The Finnish government wants the country to have Europe's best workplaces by 2020. The economic crisis has thrown spanners in the works, but the working life barometer shows the problems might also lead to new ways of working better.

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