A new study:
How agency labour became accepted practice
Helsinki (28.04.2013 - Heikki Jokinen) The hiring of temporary labour (agency labour) gained
acceptance and a sense of legitimacy back in the 1990’s when Finland was
going through a period of severe recession. This form of employment, which
had shown a marked increase at that point, was seen in the media first and
foremost as a solution to the problem of high unemployment.
Changes in legislation
passed at that time also reflected changes in attitudes towards this type of
employment arrangement. At the same time temporary labour was understood as
something that only affected "marginal groups" like women and students, thus
posing no danger to the traditional often male-dominated work places.
These are the main
findings of the doctoral thesis Keskusteluja vuokratyöstä
(Discussions on hired temporary labour) by Liisa Lähteenmäki. Her thesis won
approval at the University of Turku at the beginning of this year.
Lähteenmäki monitored how
public discourse on temporary work agencies changed from the beginning of
1990's until 2005. She analysed the news from the Finnish national newspaper
Helsingin Sanomat and the minutes of parliament as well as the minutes and
reports of parliament’s Employment and Equality Committee.
In 1985 the number of
people working for temporary employment agencies was growing and special
legislation was passed. This law focused on fair conditions and was seen as
a tool to prevent the existing exploitation of the hired workers. The
general idea was that hired labour should be used only for hiring
substitutes and in peak seasons. Public debate supported this goal.
Then Finland experienced a
serious depression at the beginning of the 1990's and suddenly the tone of
the debate changed. Temporary work agencies were often seen as a viable way
of being employed and the exploiters came to be seen as benefactors almost.
A new law in 1994 deregulated this branch.
Mass unemployment was one
factor for temporary employment becoming accepted, says Liisa Lähteenmäki in
an interview with Intiim, the magazine of the Industrial Union TEAM.
"Another important reason was that at first it only affected predominantly
female branches. The idea was that it would remain there."
Until the year 2000,
public discourse viewed temporary work agencies in a very positive light.
These were no longer considered as shady, speculation type enterprises but
as reputable businesses. The media also sought to portray agency work as a
good way to fit together work and family life. Whereas the experts
interviewed in media up until 1995 were mainly trade unionists, now
employers and work agencies took to the floor.
The employment act was
amended in 2001 stipulating e.g. that collective agreements must be applied
to hired labour. In some branches agency workers got their own collective
agreements. This created a general belief that all problems can be solved
and gave substance to the notion that hired labour is something normal.
In the abstract of her
thesis Liisa Lähteenmäki sums up by saying that the employer-dominated
discussion of temporary labour is nowadays creating "an entrepreneurial
person, who is seen as the managing director of his or her own life, as the
image of the ideal employee". This supports the general idea of shifting
responsibility from employers to employees.
The employers’ rhetoric at
the beginning of 2000s portrayed hired labour as a catalyst to the labour
market that provides freedom and diverse employment experiences. "In this
semantic context, temporary labour is merely one means of gaining employment
and finding one’s way into the labour market, instead of an obligatory
arrangement imposed by employers", Lähteenmäki writes.
In the interview with Ahjo,
the magazine of Metalworkers' Union, she criticises trade unions for being
slow to recognise the problems in the status of agency labour. Recently,
unions have become more active, and one reason behind it has been the
increase of foreign agency labour at work places, Lähteenmäki concludes.
Unions have noticed that employers often prefer agency labour to temporary
employment relations as it is easier to get rid of agency labour than
employees in temporary employment relations.
interview with Ahjo, the magazine of the Metalworkers' Union, she
criticises trade unions for being slow to recognise the problems pertaining
to the status of agency labour. Recently, unions have become more active,
and one reason for this has been the increase of foreign agency labour at
work places, Lähteenmäki concludes. Unions have noticed that employers often
prefer agency labour to temporary employment relations, as it is easier to
dispense with agency labour than it is with employees in temporary