Poor salaries lead to shortage of workers in the civil defence sector

Low salaries earned by the police, prison officers and those working in rescue services are leading to a serious shortage of workers in Estonia’s civil defence sector. Annual adjustments to officials’ salaries have not been sufficient to prevent people from leaving the forces to move into the private sector. Trade unions have drawn attention to the severe problems in these institutions due to the low salaries, while the Minister of the Interior is concerned about public security. Meanwhile, negotiations on a salary increase have commenced, along with negotiations concerning next year’s budget.

Salaries of police and public sector employees

The salaries of police officers and other workers in the public sector are differentiated according to their official rank, as set out in the Police Service Act (Politseiteenistuse seadus) and Public Service Act (Avaliku teenistuse seadus). The rates are established by law and the Estonian government may increase rates once a year.

In 2006, the salary of the lowest ranking police officer is EEK 5,300 (€340) per month, extending to EEK 12,000 (€769) for the chief superintendent. The salary of ordinary firefighters is even lower: according to calculations of the Ministry of Finance (Rahandusministeerium), the estimated average monthly salary in 2006 is EEK 8,931 (€573). The national monthly minimum wage rate for 2006 is EEK 3,000 (€192) (EE0601104F).

Shortage of employees

Due to the low salaries, police officers, prison officers, firefighters, and many other public sector workers are leaving the civil service to move into the private sector or to work abroad. According to statistics, 40% of employees decide to leave the police service because of the low salary and 10% of these go abroad.

In 2005, 1.1% of employees (6,787 persons) worked as police officers, rescue officers and prison guards (Statistics Estonia, Statistikaamet). According to the Estonian daily newspaper Eesti Päevaleht, the Estonian Rescue Board (Eesti Päästeteenistus) had a shortage of 407 firefighters at the beginning of 2006. In 2003, prisons had a 16% shortage of personnel (365 persons).

Every year, approximately 200 to 300 police officers, firefighters, security officials and other officials graduate from the Estonian Defence Academy and Estonian Public Service Academy; however, many of the graduates choose to work in the private sector. It is a serious concern that the best educated workers are leaving the public defence forces, putting the quality of services in jeopardy.

Negotiations over salary

On 2 March 2006, the Confederation of Trade Unions of State and Local Government Employees (Riigi- ja Omavalitsusasutuste Töötajate Ametiühingute Liit, ROTAL) sent a letter to the State Secretary (Riigisekretär) demanding an increase in the salaries of police officers, prison officers, firefighters and other rescue officials. Furthermore, they believe that the wage increase in the public sector should correspond to the increase in the consumer price index.

The Minister of Interior (Siseministeerium), Kalle Laanet, supports the increase in salaries and has applied for EEK 600 million (€38.5 million) from next year’s budget to increase the minimum rate of monthly salaries in the defence sector to EEK 7,500 (€481). The lower rank officials would have greater salary increases than the upper rank officials in order to reduce the pay gap.

According to the Minister of the Interior, public defence also needs urgent investment in equipment renewal. For example, the fire engines have been in service for 22 years, on average. If the necessary investment is not made, the efficiency of the security forces will deteriorate and they will be unable to perform their tasks, the minister outlined in the daily newspaper Eesti Päevaleht in March. In spring 2006, the media reported several cases where firefighting was hampered due to the lack of fire officers and fire engines.

Commentary

Negotiations over the 2007 budget have just started, and the Minister of Finance has indicated that the additional amount for increasing salaries will not exceed EEK 250 million (€16 million). This means that the increase in salaries will not meet expectations.

Further information

See also the wage agreement signed between the government and TALO, the trade union representing employees working in education, healthcare and other areas (EE0601103N); and disputes over civil service pay (EE0511101F).

Kirsti Nurmela and Marre Karu, Praxis Centre for Policy Studies

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