Fixed-term employment is a matter covered by collective agreements, in the same way as matters such as salary, duties or place of work. However, university personnel do not tend to bring up issues with fixed-term contracts as actively as questions regarding salary or duties.
“This issue shouldn’t become some kind of bogeyman and should be considered one of the conditions for a working relationship alongside everything else. University workers should understand labour law applies to them just like it does in businesses. They’re not in a worse position in any way, and the university is no exception in this regard”, says Katja Aho, Negotiation Manager of the Negotiation Organisation for Public Sector Professionals (JUKO).
Sometimes people might fear the reaction of their close superior, sometimes the future of their working relationship, other times the costs incurred by contestation. Such fears can’t be considered entirely without merit, but usually the risk is far lower than the employee fears. Aho points out the issue can be raised without waiting for conflict and huddling in a trench.
“You can present the issue by saying you enjoy your job and want to be here, and that’s why you’d like to clear up some matters regarding your employment.” Aho believes university leadership wants to handle personnel matters well and problems may simply be caused by lack of information in the faculty, unit, or research group. Usually, issues are solved through negotiation — such cases simply do not become public.
However, not every case is this simple. In that event, promptly contacting a JUKO shop steward is recommended as they can offer advice and assess the situation. Usually, initiating a disagreement procedure in accordance to the collective agreement is recommended. This begins with local negotiations and, if necessary, continues at the union level. The process may sound arduous, but according to Aho it only requires the employee to have discussions with a shop steward and union representatives. Usually, the matter is handled within six months. The disagreement procedure is always free of charge to employees.
If no agreement is reached, a resolution can be pursued via the Labour Court or a district court. If the employee only seeks compensation for unlawful termination of employment, a district court is the next step. Both the Labour Court and district courts may incur expenses unless the union chooses to cover all costs. Generally, the union’s legal expenses insurance covers at least part of the costs.
The employee is always the one to choose to continue. However, experts from their union are always present until the end of the process, offering the employee an informed opinion on how best to proceed in the matter.
Text by Tuomo Tamminen