Know your Rights
Act on Co-operation within Undertakings
Universities' funding has been cut by the government and having less funding, the universities are facing the difficult situation of trying to balance their financial situations. This could of course be done in several different ways, for example by trying to find new funding elsewhere, but unfortunately also through temporary lay offs and terminations of employment contracts and also not renewing fixed term contracts, which may have lasted for years at the university sector.
Act on Co-operation within Undertakings governs many things about co-operation between the employer and the employees in the work place. It is a law designed to help the employer and the employees as a collective to negotiate and find mutual understanding about things that have an effect on the employees in the work place. This can mean different things. The spirit of the law is that a genuine mutual agreement is sought and both parties can be satisfied with the negotiations. However, in the end, the employer always has the last say and right to make the decisions they want or need to do.
For example, different work place arrangements and organization of the work are things that must be handled in co-operation. Also more difficult and severe things such as reduction of the work force must be handled according to the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings. The media seems to regard the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings basically only as a means to reduce the labor force. This, however, is not the case, since most of the law is meant to improve the co-operation between employer and the employees, as I stated before.
In the negotiations according to the Act on Cooperation within Undertakings, the employers' representative negotiates with the employees' collective representative, the chief shop steward. The negotiations will concern all employees mentioned in the negotiation notice, regardless whether they are members of any trade unions or not. However, after the negotiations are over, the shop stewards may only consult those employees that are members of the representative trade unions, according to the shop steward system, which I have discussed earlier in one of my articles. The negotiations to reduce the work force last normally 6 weeks. Usually both the employer's and the employees' representatives inform the employees about the negotiations, (when the negotiations start, during the negotiations and after the negotiations are over).
If as a result, some employees are let go, they will usually be contacted personally and let know about the employer's decision privately. The employers usually organize information seminars about unemployment benefits and about seeking new work after the co-operation negotiations are over. The employer has to try to find new positions within its organization for those facing their contract's termination. The employer also has a legal obligation to re-hire the employee within 9 month time from the ending of the contract, (this is calculated after the notice time, which applies). However, this re-hiring does not apply to those working under fixed term contracts.
Temporary lay off, an employee's employment contract is not terminated, but the employee will not work during the lay off period. Employee is eligible for unemployment compensation during this time.
Co-operation procedures according to Act on Cooperation within Undertakings Chapter 8, co-operation negotiations which aims to reduce the work force in the work place
Fixed term contract, an employment contract that is valid for a certain, fixed, time after which the contract ends without termination.
text Mia Weckman lawyer, the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers