1. Freedom of speech.
If you are a job seeker, receiving unemployment benefits, you are required by the unemployment office (TE-toimisto) to lie to job interviewers. If you admit that you were sent (or forced) by the unemployment office, or that you were not sure if you could do that particular job for health reasons or because you didn’t have the means to get to the job or because the job was only a few days per month and because of the way your benefits were calculated you’d end up earning less than without a job, if you say anything that might give an employer an inpression that you were not absolutely happy to accept that job the employer may, if he or she wishes, contact the unemployment office and tell that in his or her opinion you didn’t really want the job. This automatically means your payments are cut for a month or two, that is hundreds, even thousands of euros punishment for speaking the truth. Had you physically abused the public servant or the employer your fine might have been less, or you could have received a few months in prison with full upkeep and even some pocket money. Speaking your mind is a big crime in Finland.
If you want to get your meagre support you have to lie at the unemployment office that you want any job anywhere with whatever conditions for whatever pay. This you have to repeat to the employers and to do it with convincing enthusiasm. Maybe an acting course is required for beginner job seekers.
2. Right for justice.
If you are one of the half a million unemployed people in Finland and in the personal opinion of an employer or an unemployment office employee you have done something “wrong” (e.g. you didn’t seem eager for the job, you were not dressed the way they wanted, you told them you lost your previous job because of burnout, or you told them you couldn’t work nights because you were a single parent), your benefits are immediately cut; you are considered a law breaker until you prove otherwise. You are punished first and questioned later. Proving your “innocence” is often easier said than done because the unemployment office has adopted their own interpretation of the law. One of their own rules is that if it’s a job seeker’s word against anyone else, the job seeker is probably lying to save himself – he can’t be objective. In Finland today an employer who takes a disliking on you at a job interview has the power to ruin you financially with a couple of nasty words.
In a fair society a citizen is considered innocent until he’s proven guilty. In Finland an unemployed person may be guilty until he proves otherwise – and sometimes even after he has.
3. A right for equal pay for equal work.
Many job seekers in Finland today are forced by the unemployment office to offer themselves to work for 9 euros per day (on top of about 30 euros per day benefits) while the people they are working with are receiving full pay. Private companies abuse the labour of unemployed people by taking on these desperate people, promising paid job at the end of unpaid months – promises that seldom materialise. An unpaid worker may be doing their very best and if they are experienced and skilled they may even be asked to train the permanent workers, but at the end of the unpaid working period they are dismissed and another unemployed person is hired with the same promises. This is all happening openly in Finland today, in a country with a reputaion for fairness and equal opportunities for all.
4. A right for compensation for work.
In Finland an unemployed person can be forced to work for 9 euros a day on top of their unemployment benefits. This system is given euphemistic names such as job training, but the best term for it is slave labour. In theory this is a voluntary arrangement but in practice a job seeker is given a paper to sign when he first registers for the benefits and he’s persuaded to sign. A person newly unemployed may still be optimistic about his chances to find a job and he signs the paper thinking it doesn’t matter; he’ll find a job soon, he thinks. However, what used to be easy is becoming harder and harder, and soon he’s asked to go and find a place where he can “offer” to work for nothing. Many people don’t know that they can’t be forced to slave labour. A public servant tells them they must do it or lose their benefits and they believe they must – surely a public servant is not lying? Honesty has long been highly valued in Finland and we tend to expect honesty from other people. That’s why we’re sometimes easy to manipulate by those who are not so honest.
Who can live without money in Finland? Nobody. So these desparate people go and work for nothing, often doing same work as their fellow workers who are receiving normal wages and benefits. It has even happened that these slave workers, who may be highly trained and with many years work experience, are asked to train their salaried fellow workers. Slave work is not forced only upon those who are difficult to place in employment but just about anyone who doesn’t know his or her rights. Some businesses (they’re called “bludger parasites” by the unemployed) missuse this system by taking on slave worker after slave worker to do productive work. There is no control mechanisms to find out this practice. If a slave worker complains, he’s dissmissed and loses his benefits, as he obviously has a wrong attitude and doesn’t really want a job. If a job seeker admits in a slave job interview that he was forced to apply for it, the employer may report this “attitude problem” to the unemployment office and the job seeker’s benefits are taken away.
Most people work for money.
Why would anyone want to work without pay when he doesn’t have enough money to pay his rent?
Why would anyone rather spend his time working for nothing than looking for a proper job?
We work because we need the money. Finland has turned this upside down, public servants here think that all you need is some activity that gets you out of your house and soon you’ll be “job ready” and a proper job will materialise from thin air. The problem is that there are half a million other people looking for those jobs, jobs that don’t exist in Finland today.
It is a widely held belief among Finnish public servants and some other people too, who themselves are employed and believe they’ll never be unemployed, that unemployed people would find work if they really wanted to, that job seekers are lazy, unsocial, mentally unstable alcoholics who need a firm kick at their backside. Dole bludgers. Addicts.
One of the most absurd features of this slave labour system is that some unemployment offices employ these “cost effective” workers themselves; the person who’s sending you to slave work may be a slave herself. Yes, this is hear say. I have no way of finding out if this is true or false, but it is an interesting thought. Perhaps someone reading this can tell if it is true?
5. Freedom to select one’s work.
A person may have professional training and many years, even decades, work experience but they may be forced to apply for jobs they know they’re not suited for or face having their benefits cut for months. I’m not saying that it wasn’t better to do an unsuitable work than do no work at all – I think work is better than unemployment – but we should have the right to decide for ourselves if we are willing and able to do a job. When we can be forced by a whim of a public servant to apply for a job we know will be a disaster, that’s not right, in my opinion. If a single mother is forced to apply for shift work without any assurance she’ll get child care she can afford, or a person with a back injury is pressured to apply for work where heavy lifting is part of the job, the system is not fair. It’s good to expand one’s horizons, it’s good to think different jobs, different locations, different way to work, and it would be good if the unemployment office was a place where one can go and be informed about different options. But it should all be based on free will. Job is not a good thing if it ruins ones health and happiness.
6. Freedom to choose where one lives.
In Finland today, if a person resigns from a job, even a one day a week job, a commission only or an on-call job, and moves to another town, they may not be entitled for benefits for months: they are unemployed because of their own action. This can happen regardless of the reason for their moving. They may have decided to leave out of desparation, to move to a smaller town where rents are lower, to a larger town where there are more jobs, or to look after a seriously ill relative.
I talked with one woman who had resigned from a full time job in another EU country to follow her husband who was retiring and wanted to return to Finland. She was given a penalty: two months (I believe it was) without benefits for resigning voluntarily without reason. Should she have stayd abroad and should they have maintained two separate households? To her question, what the TE office suggested she should have done, she was given the standard answer: “We have our rules and practices. Of course you were free to resign, but that means we can’t pay you, unfortunately.” She was a determined person and had already lodged her complain – I hope she’s received her benefits by now.
Another story, hear say again: a young woman gets engaged, resigns from her temporary part time job and moves to another side of the country to be with her fiancé. She’s denied unemployment benefits for two months.