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Young workers flock to join unemployment funds and secure jobless benefits

Coronavirus-induced layoffs have seen many people join funds to secure their right to income-linked unemployment benefits.

Many workers in Finland have been laid off temporarily this year. Image: Jani Aarnio / Yle

Finland's largest unemployment fund, YTK, has seen twice as many new members join this year compared to last year and a shift towards a younger membership.

Workers in Finland must be a member of such a fund to be eligible to receive income-linked unemployment benefits.

YTK received around 60,000 applications from new members up until the end of July, while the same period last year saw 37,000 new applications.

While in 2019 some 49 percent of those new members were aged under 35, in 2020 the proportion of under-35s was 55 percent.

YTK is the biggest fund in Finland and the main fund not linked to a trade union. It has more than 470,000 members, which represents around a quarter of the workforce.

More than 86 percent of those joining YTK had not previously been a member of a different unemployment fund.

Other funds reported a similar increase in membership, with KOKO (a fund for workers in certain professions) telling Yle that the volume of this year's new applications was around five percent of the total membership, up from two percent in a normal year.

To qualify for income-linked unemployment benefits, claimants must have worked at least 18 hours a week and been a member of an unemployment fund for at least 26 weeks.

Until the end of the year, that qualification period has been halved to 13 weeks. Workers who are laid off temporarily, or furloughed, can claim these benefits. If they are not members of an unemployment fund, they are only eligible for much lower basic unemployment benefits.

Employers' groups and some politicians have called for a reform of this system to make anyone eligible for the income-linked benefits regardless of fund membership.