Information campaign on undeclared wages, Estonia
The Estonian Tax and Customs Board launched an extensive information campaign (Maksu- ja Tolliameti infokampaania) in January 2008, which addressed the social risks of receiving undeclared wages. Street posters, handouts and media were used to raise public awareness. The initiative aimed to improve people’s tax behaviour through increasing knowledge about the benefits of declared wages and the social losses accompanying tax fraud.
The share of undeclared wages in Estonia has been fluctuating in recent years: while the proportion of employees receiving such wages declined over 2002–2006, it increased again in 2007 – reaching up to 14% of employees (EE0807019I). Furthermore, a continuing increment might be expected due to the current unfavourable economic situation, which is projected to last until 2010. Thus, the practice of undeclared work continues to have a negative impact on entrepreneurship and the competitive environment, and considerably reduces the social guarantees of employees.
As the problem of undeclared wages has remained persistent in the Estonian labour market, the Tax and Customs Board (Maksu- ja Tolliamet) has sought to tackle the problem through several measures. One such initiative has been to launch information campaigns mainly targeting employees to inform them of the possible downsides that accompany receiving undeclared wages. An earlier information campaign was conducted in 2005, which mostly seemed to have an impact on younger workers. For example, a representative of the Tax and Customs Board, Egon Veermäe, pointed out in an interview that, previously, young persons appeared to take on minimum wage positions in the labour market. However, in 2006 – following the information campaign – they were observed to be entering the labour market in higher paid positions. Nevertheless, this might also be the result of the rapid economic growth that took place during the period.
The main objective of the latest information campaign is improving the tax behaviour of persons through raising awareness about the gains from receiving declared wages and the social losses accompanying tax fraud.
Furthermore, the Tax and Customs Board aimed to initiate public discussion on the risks related to undeclared income and on the impact of such tax behaviour on society at large.
The information campaign addressed the issue by means of several outlets in January 2008. The main channels of communication were posters all over cities and in public offices of the Tax and Customs Board, as well as handouts in both Estonian and Russian. Moreover, a number of newspaper articles and television and radio programmes addressed the issue of undeclared wages.
In addition, people were invited to inform the Tax and Customs Board of the payment of undeclared wages. The procedure for reporting such behaviour has been made easier by means of a free 24-hour telephone number and email address, and the informant can remain anonymous.
Evaluation and outcome
Achievement of objectives
The information campaign was conducted only recently and thus no extensive conclusions regarding the achievement of objectives can be made so far. Furthermore, it is relatively difficult to measure the impact of the information campaign as the reasons for improved tax behaviour are not recorded – for example, whether the change in behaviour was a result of the information campaign or some other factor. The assessment of the impact of the previous information campaign was highly subjective.
Obstacles and problems
On the basis of the above observations, one of the main problems with regard to the information campaign is the impact assessment, that is, the lack of possibilities to assess the results of the initiative.
Mr Veermäe highlighted that:
in general it is difficult to tackle undeclared work as it may be beneficial in terms of increased income for both the employer and employee. However, changes in attitudes will occur when employees acknowledge the social risks accompanying undeclared work and employers think about the situation of competitiveness in the market.
Thus, it is clear that an information campaign has an important role to play. Nevertheless, the Tax and Customs Board acknowledges that a certain proportion of taxpayers will continue to favour undeclared work.
It is not possible to quantify the number of workers addressed or affected by the information campaign. An estimate of changes in tax behaviour could be made at the beginning of 2009 to see whether the proportion of persons receiving undeclared wages has decreased in 2008. However, it is impossible to determine with any precision the impact of the information campaign on the changes in tax behaviour.
Conducting an extensive information campaign is clearly transferable to other countries.
Main organisation responsible: Estonian Tax and Customs Board
Anvelt, K., ‘Ümbrikupalk röövib riigilt päevas miljoni’, Eesti Päevaleht, 11 June 2008, available online at: http://www.epl.ee/artikkel/432184.
Kirsti Nurmela and Liis Lill, PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies