As of 1 January 2018, Finnish beneficiaries of unemployment benefits will be required to report their job-seeking efforts to their employment office every three months. If their efforts are judged not to meet the stipulated requirements, their benefit will be cut by 4.65 percent, or the approximate equivalent of one day of benefits.
Unions and associations representing the unemployed argue that the change will force people without work into different strata, dependent on their line of work and their location. People outside of the capital city region have far fewer opportunities to find part-time or temporary work or participate in training.
Imatra resident Timo Mykrä is unemployed. He says the government's so-called 'active model', approved by the Finnish Parliament in mid-December, sounds like a dreadful system for oppressing the unemployed.
"You could maybe meet the active model's requirements in Helsinki, but what if you live in [the eastern region of] Kainuu or [the Lapland village of] Pelkosenniemi, where there is no work on offer?" he asks.
Mykrä also acts as chair of his local association for the unemployed. He says the new model has been the subject of intense conversation in the group. The reason the Finnish Parliament voted in favour of the government proposal is crystal clear to him.
"They'll be able to clean up their statistics this way. Even if you are only at work for one day, you are no longer considered unemployed," he says.
Work or classes, but not both
Once the change takes effect at the turn of the year, jobseekers receiving unemployment benefits from the state will be required to work at least 18 hours in a job, earn at least 240 euros per month as an entrepreneur, or participate in five days of training or prep classes per every three-month period. If they are unable to meet the criteria, they will lose the equivalent of one day's benefit each month.
The requirement is made even more complicated by the rule that benefit-receivers cannot work and attend training simultaneously. People without work have to choose one or the other.
Finland's trade unions say the change will make an increasingly imbalanced work situation in Finland even more skewed. It is also unclear whether the new requirements will help jobseekers secure permanent work.
"Temporary work and participation in services reduces the time jobseekers could be effectively using to search for jobs that correspond to their education and skills. It also remains to be seen if taking short-term and part-time positions outside of their field while unemployed will be a plus or minus in terms of their later career," says Service Sector Union PAM's spokesperson Mari Kettunen.
The Turku area branch of Finland's largest blue-collar union, SAK, released a statement recently that accused the new model of being a cut to unemployment benefits in practice.
Who will carry out all the training?
Associations that arrange training for the unemployed don't view the new model as an effective way to encourage people to stay active and find work.
"There just aren't enough jobs out there. There could be near the Helsinki area, but I've heard that someone calculated that [the eastern border city of] Lappeenranta needs to come up with 300 more vacancies if the people in question there hope to fulfil the new criteria," says Mika Salminen of Intopaja, an organizer of workshops for younger-aged unemployed.
Salminen wonders why the government has cut resources to associations like his that provide training opportunities to the unemployed at the same time that their new model is pushing people to use the services more.
"It sounds to me as if the model was thrown together quickly. It was not prepared well, and you can be sure that feedback from the field was not taken into consideration," Salminen says.