News / 30.04.2010

The recession drives up labour contract disputes

The legal expenses of the Federation of Finnish Journalists (SJL) have tripled since the beginning of 2000s. While in 2003 the federation’s total legal expenses including legal assistance to its members was 14,000 Euros, in 2008 it had shot up to nearly 50,000 Euros.

“Last year was exceptional because there were negotiations in several media houses between employers and employees over layoffs which also gave rise to court cases. There are seven different cases involving Etelä-Suomen Sanomat (a regional newspaper)”, says Petri Savolainen, who is in charge of protecting of members’ interests in SJL.

The relationship between journalists and their employers has strained. Employees are increasingly more likely to take legal action against their employers if they perceive an unfair treatment. The most typical cases involve job dismissals, justification for temporary work contracts and copyright issues in the case of freelance journalists. Savolainen says that there were hardly prior instances of disputes over temporary work contracts and cases involving freelance journalists’ grievances.

The message is also that employers have taken a hard-line stand: still in the 1990s issues were more handled by negotiated settlement. There are several cases going on now in the courts of appeal and right up to higher courts.

“Employers could pursue a final decision all the way to court for fear that paying for a settlement would generate more of such cases”, says Savolainen

Director of marketing at the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry, Johanna Varis says that employers more easily go to court over issues that have significant legal interpretation for them.

“Companies however try as much possible to reach a settlement over issues in order not to go to court. Trials are voided”, she says.

According to her, the issue of image is not significant for a media company when taking a case to court. Rather, it is legal expenses. Media companies often hire big legal firms with corresponding costs and if they lose a case it becomes more expensive because they have to absorb the legal costs of the defendant.

The Federation of Finnish Journalists right now has about 40 different ongoing court cases concerning labour contracts or freelance agreements. At the same time at least a similar number of cases concerning disputesnts are being settled with the help of the union.

According to Savolainen, the union always tries as a priority to negotiate and reach a settlement. Only cases where the results of negotiations by local shop stewards and the union’s ombudsmen for condition of services agreements are not reasonable from the point of view of the member involved, go as far to the court.

“On the other hand, we emphasis zero tolerance: if there is reason to suspect that, for instance, firing someone or the basis of temporary work contract is not legal, then a member is right to litigate. The most difficult cases are the ones seeking clarifications of the basis c of a temporary work contract, because often young temporary workers dare not take on a fight. And if some case is taken further, agreement is typically reached at the door steps of the court”, says Savolainen.

Sometimes for the sake of a person to continue with his life it is more important to reach a decision than seek justice.

An agreement over a labour contract dispute is generally settled with money and in practice, the condition for settlement is always that the contents of the agreement are not made public. One cannot claim back a job if the employment has already been terminated before the makes court judgement.

Translation by Linus Atarah

Original article in Journalisti-Magazine by Katri Porttinen:

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