(Translated by Timo Willman)
The Minister of Labour, Lindström, presented the government’s plans regarding employment on Monday 18 April. Once again, it became clear that neither the Centre Party, National Coalition Party nor the Finns Party have understood the changes facing work life.
Going forward, job seekers will also have to accept work outside their own profession, if no work is available within their own profession. During the press conference, Lindström was however not able to specify what this change actually means in practice.
According to the Minister, the intention is to compile a “clear set of instructions” for Employment and Economy Ministry officers to assess when work is available for a jobseeker within their own profession and when it isn’t. Relying on this set of instructions will not only increase the power and responsibilities of individual officers, but also increase arbitrary and personal judgements of situations when dealing with jobseekers. At the same time, regulations and bureaucracy will be increased, even though reducing them was meant to be an aim for the government.
This policy is an indicator that the government and ministry do not understand the changes in the job market. Not all job vacancies and opportunities can be found on noticeboards or the Employment and Economic Development website. Successful employment is becoming increasingly reliant on the jobseeker offering his or her skills where there may be demand for it. Evaluating whether work is available for those with degrees in arts or social sciences or those in creative professions may be virtually impossible. The same applies to job vacancies in small businesses across the industries.
A sure way to make employment harder within the jobseeker’s own profession is to force him or her to accept whatever job straight away during the first weeks of unemployment. With their policy, the government makes it clear that they are unfamiliar with the realities of work life and that they have no appreciation for education and training. Increasing the employment rate would require the ability to understand not only the changes in the job market but also the significance of education in securing lifelong employment. Unfortunately, the government is unable to do either.
The only positive reform is that in the future a jobseeker will have the right to use their unemployment benefits in the same way as a star-up grant. If an unemployed person has an idea for a business, they have the right to try it out without losing their benefits. The downside is that this is only applicable to those on state benefits, not those receiving support based on earnings, which would last longer when trialling a business idea.
Job seekers will have to take part in all activation courses, so that all spaces will be filled on the courses, as justified in the press conference. The tightening of the regulations would be understandable if these courses would always meet the job seekers’ actual needs. This is, however, not always the case.
It would be much cleverer to expand job seekers’ rights for education and training whilst on benefits. This way, the unemployed could study according to their own needs, and this education could seriously increases the chances of employment. Currently, the right to study whilst on unemployment benefits is too dependent on the understanding of the individual officers and often leads to decisions that seem unpredictable and arbitrary.
Additional sanctions are in contradiction with the aims of a basic income system: with a basic income an unemployed person can study and train according to their own needs, increasing their chances of employment. A basic income would also make it possible for a job seeker to accept any work, and every hour worked would add to the work income.
Instead, the government is planning to implement up to a three to four month long “trial period”, during which the job seeker could showcase their abilities to a prospective employer, but for which he or she would apparently not get paid in any way. It is common practice in the restaurant industry for chefs to complete a unpaid trial shift. A paid trial period should be a good enough way for both the candidate and employer to assess whether or not it is a good fit. The right-wing government seems to be focusing on adding sanctions and making job seekers jump through hoops.
It is clear that the government is incapable of a social analysis to determine what effect the decisions made in different political areas have on one another. The government’s education policy is detrimental from the viewpoint of Finland’s employment and economy, as, by cutting from education, the government is decreasing the chances of growth of professions and new jobs. By cutting medical and travel expenses of those with lower incomes and increasing medical centre fees, the government is increasing the the need for benefits and this dependency on benefits is, according to all researchers, the biggest employment trap and obstacle.
The government’s employment plans are like a bunch of branches used to whip jobseekers into employment to make the statistics look prettier. Unfortunately, a permanent, lasting and poverty-lowering employment policy cannot be achieved with the government’s tricks that only aim to discipline the unemployed. The changes in the reality of work life require new ways to increase employment. At the foundation on which must be a trust in people.