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Court: Competitiveness pact should not extend agreed working hours

An employee wanted to know if working hours specified in a job contract could be extended.

Image: Johan Gullmets / Yle

The Länsi-Uusimaa district court has ruled that the weekly number of working hours written into a worker’s employment contract cannot be extended on the basis of the previous government’s competitiveness pact.

In 2016, Juha Sipilä’s centre-right government signed an accord with labour market leaders that extended workers’ annual working time by 24 hours. The aim of the agreement was to make Finnish businesses more competitive by reducing the unit cost of labour. The competitiveness provision was then written into the collective agreements of various sectors.

On Wednesday the Union of Professional Engineers reported on the ruling. Yle has seen the original judgment, which was unanimous.

The court said that if a company increases employees' working hours, it is violating the working hours agreed in the employment contract.

Employer ordered to pay

The court also ordered the employer in question to compensate the employee for the additional 30-minute stints of extra time with interest and to pay legal costs amounting to nearly 25,000 euros.

The union said that the court’s decision was based on the so-called favourability rule, according to which a collective agreement cannot be based on less favourable terms and conditions than an agreed employment contract.

Union advocacy director Petteri Oksa described the court’s decision as a significant legal guideline.

"On this basis extending working hours may have been done without justification to a large group of workers. The timing of the decision is also interesting, given that the lengthening of working hours is creating problems in the renewal of collective agreements," Oksa said in a statement.

On Monday, unions representing technology and professional workers began an overtime ban after failing to reach an accord with employers on a new collective bargaining agreement. One of the sticking points was said to be the 24 unpaid working hours of the competitiveness pact, which unions wanted to eliminate.

However, the extended working hours in the pact remained in the collective bargaining agreement for the engineering field.

The employer may still appeal the court’s ruling in the appeal court or seek a precedent decision in the Supreme Court.