Helsinki (18.05.2018 - Heikki Jokinen) From the beginning of June zero-hours contracts will become a legal part of Finnish working life. The new legislation will stipulate some limits, but does little to tackle the actual problem.

The trade union movement has been struggling for a long time against zero-hours contracts. These set the weekly working hours from zero to 40, also giving the employer the possibility to hire staff with no guarantee of work.

This situation affects young people mostly: according to Statistics Finland nearly one-half of those working zero-hours contracts were aged under 25, and 65 per cent were under 30 in the year 2014. A majority of those with zero-hours contracts, 57 per cent in all were women.

According to Statistics Finland estimates 83,000 Finns were working zero-hours contracts in 2014. This accounts for four per cent of the total workforce.

Young trade union activists collected more than 63,000 signatures for a citizens’ initiative to be put before the Finnish Parliament, in a bid to stop for zero-hours contracts. This initiative was resoundingly rejected this spring in Parliament - 114 voted against the measure and only 44 voted in favour.

And what are the amendments? The new legislation says that zero-hours contracts are only allowed when there exists a genuine reason, like when the amount of work varies unexpectedly and irregularly.

The zero-hours contract employee will also be entitled to receive payment during sick leave on the hours already written into his or her working hours list.

The employee's salary during the notice period will at a minimum correspond to his or her average salary during the preceding 12-week work period.

If the employee wants to quit due to the lack of working hours, he or she will, according to the new laws, have the right to earnings related unemployment benefit if the amount of work has been during the last 12 weeks more than 18 hours per week.

Many problems remain

There are some improvements in the new legislation. But the main problem is that the laws create a new legal way to facilitate zero-hours work. And contracts with zero hour working time are still fully possible in practice.

In theory the new legislation gives some new rights to zero-hours employees, like asking for more working hours in the contract, if he or she has a higher number of weekly working hours than written into the contract. How many of the zero-hours employees will dare to do this in practise, is another question.

Anu-Tuija Lehto, Legal Adviser at the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK said in an interview with the newspaper Kansan Uutiset that there would be an easy way to solve the problem.

"The employment contract should always include a certain number of working hours. This number could be reexamined regularly whether or not there has been an increase in the number of hours. If so, this could be the basis of the new contract."

According to Lehto similar kind of rules are already used by the Service Union United PAM in their collective agreements.

The new obligation to continue pay salary during the notice period is, as such, a good thing, Lehto says.

"But surely most of the employers will also find work to be done during the notice period, too, if they are paying salaries." This might have the effect of another employee on a zero-hours contract losing working hours.

Read more:

Citizens’ initiative to end zero-hours contracts (28.01.2015)

83 000 employees work with zero-hours contracts (27.03.2015)