Dissertation Abstracts

Discussing Temp Agency Employment: The Discursive Construction of Temporary Agency Work in Finland

Author: Lähteenmäki, Liisa M., limala@utu.fi
Department: Social Research
University: University of Turku, Finland
Supervisor: Professor Hannu Ruonavaara
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: Finnish

Keywords: Discourse analysis , Finland , Moral regulation , Temporary agency emp
Areas of Research: Work , Law


In the early 1990s, Finnish labour market organisations agreed that the hiring of temporary staff was to be used only to fill short-term needs, such as hiring substitutes and dealing with peak seasons. In some sectors, temporary agency work was unequivocally prohibited. Even though Finland and the international community labelled temporary agency labour as a questionable employment policy as early as the 1980s, the proportion of temporary staff began to grow in Finland in the mid-1990s.

The phenomenon has been subject to relatively little study in Finland. Previous research has focused mainly on the experiences of the workers and the terms of employment. As a result, temporary agency labour is seen as something of a subjective experience. Besides experiences, the hiring of temporary labour is about social power struggles in which discursive means are employed in an attempt to influence the phenomenon, the wider labour market, and the general public’s views about what is normal in working life. This study expands the understanding of temporary agency labour by examining the phenomenon through the public conceptions generated by legislation, news coverage and marketing. I utilise the traditions regarding control and regulation of work processes as the theoretical framework of this study. I present the following as my research questions:

1) How and on what grounds was temporary labour hire established as a legitimate means of employing and being employed in Finland?
2) What kinds of employee ideas are constructed in discussions pertaining to temporary agency labour?

As my research material, I will study documents related to legislation, media coverage, marketing materials of temporary labour companies and interviews with representatives of temporary labour companies. The method of analysis I will employ is critical discourse analysis.

I suggest that the hiring of temporary labour became a legitimate mode of employment in Finland as a result of it being conceptualised in the discourses of legislation and the media first and foremost as a solution to unemployment. At the same time, temporary labour was conceptualised as a function fulfilled by marginal groups of workers (women and students), which meant that it was effectively divorced from the day-to-day activities of male-dominated workplaces. As a solution to unemployment, temporary labour was established as a natural part of the more general labour market development that was “out of everyone’s hands”. In the 2000s, temporary labour hire continued its triumphant rise and established itself as a permanent phenomenon, thanks to labour legislation reform institutionalising the collective agreement procedure for temporary labour, thus confirming it as something normal and acceptable. Furthermore, the controlling speech directed at employees in the media and the marketing of employers aim to create an entrepreneurial person as the image of the ideal employee. In summary, temporary labour is not merely about the personal or individual experiences of employees. Rather, it is first and foremost the result of a social battle of semantics fuelled by control-oriented conceptualisations of employment, individual choice and the good of society that aim towards shifting employment responsibility from employers to employees.