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Gig economy transforms Finnish labour

As more residents in Finland become workers in the gig economy, many wonder if it's worth it.

Anonyymi silhuetti kellarissa.
Critics say fragmented, insecure employment are problematic in the gig economy. Image: Nella Nuora / Yle

Today some 180,000 people in Finland are self-employed, according to Statistics Finland.

Some see becoming sole traders as a path to greater autonomy while others said they chose it for a lack of better options.

“Your employer has no responsibilities. You pay for your own work clothes, tools, travel expenses and you can’t get sick," Laura, a 28-year old house painter who did not want to disclose her real name told Yle.

Laura has been working as a painter for four years and she said that during that time employers in the sector have started preferring painters with their own business ID. This means an employer buys a service from a private contractor and doesn't engage in a typical employment relationship. As a result the worker shoulders the burden of pension and social costs that used to fall on the employer.

Today workers in Finland’s gig economy include everyone from construction workers to nurses and translators.

“Almost any time you apply for a job they ask if you can just send an invoice for your work,” Laura explained.

Freelance future?

Maija Mattila, a researcher at the Kalevi Sorsa foundation, a social democratic think-tank, said she believed the gig economy would continue to flourish as it’s a cheaper and easier option for employers. Her research found that some companies running labour-sharing digital platforms would not be in the black if they paid social costs.

“Business models that split a job into several smaller parts for outsourcing can spread. We need rules to figure out if this is okay or not,” Mattila said.

As a contractor, Laura was offered a gig where she could invoice 18 euros an hour for her work. That would mean an hourly wage of ten euros after mandatory pension contributions and insurance.

The Finnish Construction Trade Union told Yle that the job Laura was offered could be classified as slave labour. The median wage for a painter is 16.81 euros per hour.

Becoming a sole trader left Laura with 2,500 euros in debt which she plans to begin paying off in August.

Harri Hellsten, who heads labour market affairs at the Federation of Finnish Enterprises, said parties can freely set the price of labour as entrepreneurs are outside the scope of collective agreements.

The Confederation of Finnish Industries and the Federation of Finnish Enterprises, both representing the voices of employers, have said they don’t recommend further labour regulations in Finland.

The service workers’ union PAM meanwhile said it feared the platform economy could grow to include everyone from cashiers to restaurant workers in the future.

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