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Sociologist: Changing employment system calls for mindset overhaul

The days of a society-wide 'full employment' situation will never be seen again, says working life researcher Antti Kasvio. Last month's failed social agreement means tightening for the terms of job alternation leave.

Image: Sami Tammi / Yle

Sociologist and working life researcher Antti Kasvio is the co-author of a new book on downshifting published by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. He says that the modern rat race spins faster than ever, and that taking a break or cutting down on a stressful workload should be made possible.

In Finland, one way to do just that is the job alternation leave system, whereby an employee goes on paid leave for at least 100 and a maximum of 360 days while his or her position is filled in the meanwhile by a new worker. Kasvio says that the system is popular but expensive.

Persons taking a job alternation leave are entitled to a compensation equal to 70 % or 80% of the unemployment allowance to which they would be entitled were they unemployed. For those who have an employment history of at least 25 years, the compensation is 80% of the unemployment allowance.

No more alternation?

On Friday, the Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn said that the terms of job alternation will become stricter beginning next year.

"We are faced with considering what leeway we should give and what society can afford – obviously," Kasvio says.

The failure of the agreement between the government and the employee-employer sector – also known as the social contract – means that there the job alternation system is threatened with downscaling or even abolishment. The positive sociological impacts to working ability and motivation are well studied.

"Losing the system would be a great loss," Kasvio says.

Full employment a pipe dream

Kasvio says that Finns yearn for a return to the traditional Nordic 'full employment' society, where people would study diligently and graduate early, move on to steady day jobs that they would work until retirement.

"There are so many factors that undermine this type of model," he says. "It's nothing but a pipe dream at this stage. If young people look at their job prospects in the next four decades, I wouldn't be surprised if they opted to vote for basic income instead."

Kasvio says that the Finnish powers that be do not understand this shift occurring in Finnish employment, whereas in places such as Germany steps are being taken to counteract and face pressures from a changing system.