Fixed-term contracts at the universities are one of the themes I constantly deal with in my advocacy work, as they are a significant issue in the university sector in particular. Roughly 70% of universities’ teaching and research staff work on fixed-term contracts. The situation is, fortunately, slightly better among other staff, but not necessarily satisfactory either.
Surveys by the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers show time and again that fixed-term contracts are the number one reason for ill-being at work. Keeping employees on fixed-term contracts year after year wears them out and is totally unnecessary.
We want to genuinely improve fixed-term employees’ situation and have thought of numerous ways to do this, both on the level of individual employees and collectively. Our long-term goal is to reduce the proportion of fixed-term contracts from 70% to 30%, which would bring us significantly closer to the 20% share prevalent in the rest of working life.
Fixed-term contracts are thus notably more common at the universities than other sectors. This is the case even though universities are subject to the same legislation as the rest of working life. For this reason, one of our goals in the collective bargaining negotiations is improving the status of employees on fixed-term contracts. For example, the collective agreements could be used to reinforce the employer - employee representative (shop steward) cooperation to reduce the number of fixed-term contracts at the individual university level.
We already know that the modern trend is for employers to aim for local solutions in a great deal of matters. Reviews of fixed-term contracts would therefore be a natural way of acting jointly to remove unnecessary contracts of this kind. Shared working groups, training and educational campaigns are also useful. For example, it is worth reading the #whynotpermanent campaign page on the Finnish Union of Researchers and Teachers website. It contains a lot of additional information about the fixed-term contract situation at the universities.
The writer is Director of Advocacy at the Finnish Union of Researchers and Teachers.