Estonia: Industrial relations in companies

In 2009, the first Estonian Working Life Survey was conducted by Statistics Estonia. The aim of the study was to collect data from employers as well as employees on different aspects of working life. This report focuses on the situation of industrial relations and occupational health and safety in Estonian companies. According to the survey, larger companies and employees of larger companies are covered more often by collective agreements, they tend to have employee representatives and they also have practices in place to ensure occupational health and safety.

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Introduction

In 2007, Statistics Estonia in cooperation with the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs began preparations for a survey of different aspects of working life. The survey, the first of its kind in Estonia, took place in 2009 and collected statistical data on employment relations and, more widely, on working life. It was commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs, and its results are used by various ministries and research facilities to analyse the quality of work, and as the basis for the improvement of policies affecting working life. The plan is to carry out similar surveys on a regular basis.

Methodology

The survey covers the topic of work organisation, which for example includes information on the type of employment contracts used, the use of remote work, evaluation of combining work and family life. It also includes information on employees’ inclusion in enterprise activities and employees autonomy to organise their work. Another topic that is covered in the survey is relations at workplace such as the frequency of conflicts between employers and employees and evaluation of relationships at work.

Working time, holiday entitlement and pay are also examined, with attention to issues such as the proportions of full-time to part-time workers, the reasons behind the use of certain working time patterns, the allocation of overtime work, and employees’ satisfaction with their wages or any problems they have getting paid. Aspects of employees’ skills and knowledge are also considered, such as the opportunities they have to gain new skills and knowledge. The survey also covers industrial relations and occupational health and safety issues, which are covered in more detail in this report.

The survey comprised of two stages. In the first stage, questionnaires were sent to the heads of enterprises, and in the second stage, face to face interviews were held with employees of these enterprises. The first stage took place between 1 April and 30 June 2009, and the second stage took place between 1 October and 31 December 2009.

The target group of enterprises and their employees consisted of private companies, third sector organisations and government and local government institutions.

The first stage sample consisted of 1,700 economically active enterprises that had five or more employees selected by random sampling, of which 1,332 answered to the questionnaires (78%). The second stage sample of employees comprised of 7,463 people employed by the respondent enterprises, of which 4,609 were interviewed (62%). The list of enterprises selected from the registry of Estonian Tax and Customs Board (EMTA).

Collective agreement coverage

The results of the Working Life Survey 2009, show that working conditions are determined by a collective agreement in 5.8% of all enterprises, which means that 94.2% of all enterprises have no collective agreement (for more information see Estonia: Industrial relations profile). It is important to note that this reflects only enterprise-level collective agreements; however, since higher level collective agreements are not common in Estonia, the total coverage estimates should be reliable even if higher level agreements are taken into consideration. According to the survey, the share of enterprises covered by a collective agreement is highest in non-profit organisations and foundations (16.1%), followed by 15.3% of state and local government agencies and 4.2% of private enterprises (see Figure 1), demonstrating the significant differences between public and private sectors in terms of concluding collective agreements.

Figure 1: Presence of collective agreements by group of enterprises, 2009

Figure 1: Presence of collective agreements by group of enterprises, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia, Working Life Survey 2009

Collective agreement coverage in terms of employees is much higher, at 32.7%, compared to the percentage of companies covered by such agreements. This indicates that collective agreements are mostly concluded in large companies. The share of employees covered by collective agreements is also highest among employees at non-profit organisations and foundations (46%) (see Figure 2). The collective agreement coverage among employees of companies and state and local government agencies was lower (32.4% and 30.4% respectively). This indicates that collective agreements in the private sector are concluded in very large companies and this accounts for the large difference in collective agreement coverage between employees and companies. 5.4% of all employees did not know whether or not they are covered by any collective agreement.

Figure 2: Presence of collective agreements by group of employees, 2009

Figure 2: Presence of collective agreements by group of employees, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia Working Life Survey, 2009

As expected, the share of collective agreement coverage was highest in enterprises with 250 of more employees (39.1%) (see Figure 3). This was three times higher than collective agreement coverage in enterprises with 50–249 employees (12.6%) and six times higher than enterprises with 10–49 employees (6.4%). A total of 97.1% of all enterprises with 5–9 employees did not have a collective agreement. Thus, collective agreements remain a feature of large companies.

Figure 3: Presence of collective agreement by size of enterprises, 2009

Figure 3: Presence of collective agreement by size of enterprises, 2009

The number of respondents among enterprises with 5-9 employees who had collective agreements is based on less than 20 respondents

Source: Statistics Estonia Working Life Survey, 2009

Collective agreement coverage was highest among plant and machine operators and assemblers (46.9%) (see Figure 4) and lowest among senior officials and professionals (25.7%). This indicates that collective agreements in Estonia are concluded mostly in large manufacturing enterprises and among blue-collar workers. The highest share of employees who did not know whether they were covered by any collective agreement were skilled, agricultural and fishery workers, and other craft and related trades workers (11.9%).

Figure 4: Presence of collective agreements by occupation, 2009

Figure 4: Presence of collective agreements by occupation, 2009

The number of respondents among service workers who did not know if they had collective agreements in their workplace was based on fewer than 20 respondents.

Source: Statistics Estonia Working Life Survey 2009

There was practically no difference between the collective agreement coverage of men and women (33.6% and 31.9% respectively). The share of employees who are covered by a collective agreement is highest among older workers (see figure 5). The share of employees aged 50–64 covered by a collective agreement was 40.7%, and among employees aged 65–74 and older, 38.9%. At the same time, the share of employees aged 15–24 who were covered by a collective agreement was 26.9%, and among employees in the central years of their working lives (25–49) coverage stood at 29.3%.

Figure 5:Presence of collective agreements by age group, 2009

Figure 5:Presence of collective agreements by age group, 2009

The number of respondents among the age group 15-24 and 65-74 who did not know about the presence of collective agreements in their company was based on less than 20 respondents.

Source: Statistics Estonia Working Life Survey 2009

Employee representation in companies

In 13.3% of all enterprises have an elected employee representative. This person works for the enterprise or institution concerned and is elected either by the employees in workplace elections, or by trade union members of the enterprise or institution. In 6% of all enterprises there is a recognised trade union. The difference between an employee representative and a representative chosen by trade union members is that the duties and rights of the first are governend by the Employees’ Representative Act, while an elected trade union member is governed by the Trade_Unions_Act (in Estonian). Overall, the share of companies that have elected either type of representative or that have a trade union is rather small (for more detailed information see Estonia: Industrial relations profile).

The share of employee representatives is highest in state and local government agencies (41.3%) (see Figure 6) and lowest in private companies (9.9%). The same pattern is repeated in trade union presence in enterprises and organisations (40.9% in the public sector, and 1.6% in the private sector) (see figure 6). However, among workers, the share of employees working in an enterprise that does have an employee representative is highest in non-profit associations and foundations (36%) and those that belong to a trade union is also highest among non-profit associations and foundations (31.4%).

Figure 6: Existence of employee representatives by group of enterprises, 2009

Figure 6: Existence of employee representatives by group of enterprises, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia Working Life Survey, 2009

The share of employees working in enterprises that have employee representatives or who are members of a trade union is highest among plant and machine operators and assemblers (34.3% and 14.2% respectively). Older workers (employees aged 50–64 and 65–74) form the highest share of workers who work in a company that have an employee representative (55.8%) and the share of older workers (employees aged 50–64 and 65–74) who belong to a trade union is also higher ( 28.1%) compared to the younger age groups (employees aged 15–24 and 25–49) 13.1%.

Just over half (51.0%) of enterprises with 250 and more employees have an elected employee representative (see Figure 7). The share of enterprises with 50–249 employees that have elected an employee representative is also quite high (36.4%). In smaller enterprises (10–49), the share of enterprises which have an employees representative is almost half that figure (19%). Employee representatives are more in common in larger enterprises because enterprises with more than 30 employees are obligedby the Employees’ Representative Act to inform and consult with employees. The same pattern occurs in the incidence of trade unions, since trade union presence is highest among enterprises with 250 and more employees (48%), followed by enterprises with 50–249 employees (20.6%) and enterprises with 10–49 employees (7%). Thus, in larger enterprises there is a higher probability of there being an employee representative or a trade union.

Figure 7: Existence of employee representatives by size of enterprises, 2009

Figure 7: Existence of employee representatives by size of enterprises, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia Working Life Survey, 2009

Evaluation of employee representation

In this section, employers’ and employees’ evaluations of the work of employee representatives is analysed by enterprise, occupation, age and region.

70.8% of employers reported that employee representatives had either coped very well or rather well with their role in the enterprise. Employees were a little more critical in their evaluation, since 63.5% of all employees reported that employee representatives had represented their interests to the employer rather well or very well. The share of employees of non-profit associations and foundations who reported that their employee representative had done their work very well was almost three times higher (32.1%) than employees of private companies (12.4%) and than employees of state and local government agencies (11.6%).

47.1% of employees of enterprises in Central Estonia reported that their employee representative had their job very well, three times higher than employees of enterprises of Southern Estonia and even more compared to other regions.

There were no big differences in male and female estimates of how well the employee representative had represented their interests, the number of men assessing their representative as working very well or rather well being only a bit higher (65.6%) than women (61.4%).

Most employers are also very satisfied or rather satisfied with trade union activity in representing employees’ opinions and in negotiations with the employer (62.1%). However, among employers who rate the work of representatives badly, more are critical of those representing a trade union than of employee-elected representatives (14.3% compared to 4.6% respectively).

Employees also rate union representatives less highly than employee representatives (see Figure 8). For example, 33.7% of employees working in non-profit associations or foundations estimated trade unions’ representation of employees’ opinions and negotiation with employers as bad or rather bad. Only 17.3% of employees working in non-profit organisations judged trade unions to work rather well.

Figure 8: Employees’ evaluation of trade union representation of their interests, by type of company, 2009

Figure 8: Employees’ evaluation of trade union representation of their interests, by type of company, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia Working Life Survey, 2009

By occupation, the share of employees who assessed union representatives’ work on their behalf most highly were skilled agricultural and fishery workers, and other craft and related trades workers (23.9%) and they were also among those who estimated trade union respresentatives as doing their jobs very badly or rather badly (28.7%).

By age group, the share of those employees who judged trade union activity positively was highest among employees aged 65–74 and older (See Figure 9). The largest group to give indifferent evaluations of trade union work on their behalf was among employees aged 15–24 (51.1%). Data on either positive or negative evalutations is not reliable due to the small sample size and is therefore not presented in Figure 9 below.

Figure 9: Employees’ evaluation of trade union representation of their interests by age group, 2009

Figure 9: Employees’ evaluation of trade union representation of their interests by age group, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia, Working Life Survey 2009

By region, the most positive feedback was given by employees of enterprises in western Estonia (24.8%) (see Figure 10), while the most negative evaluations were given in north-eastern Estonia (49.3%). Negative evaluation by employees working in enterprises in north-eastern Estonia could be caused by complicated labour market conditions. As unemployment in this region is very high, trade unions may not have many options for bargaining with employers and this may lie behind many employees’ negative perceptions of the unions.

Figure 10: Employees’ evaluation of trade union representation of their interests by region, 2009

Figure 10: Employees’ evaluation of trade union representation of their interests by region, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia, Working life survey 2009

Occupational health and safety

According to the Working Life Survey 2009, 74.5% of all enterprises have carried out an evaluation of health risks in their enterprise. Around 75% of companies and state and local government agencies evaluate their health risks, which is more than twice the number of non-profit associations that do so (33%). It is also true that more of the larger enterprises carry out health risk evaluations (see Figure 11).

Figure 11: Evaluation of health risks by size of enterprise, 2009

Figure 11: Evaluation of health risks by size of enterprise, 2009

The number of respondents among enterprises with 250 or more employees who have not evaluated health risks was based on fewer than 20 respondents.

Source: Statistics Estonia, Working Life Survey 2009

In 93.9% of enterprises, employees are exposed to health risks while working. The most common health risks in enterprises are working with display screen equipment (78.1%) and moving of weights over 5kg (66.9%) (see Figure 12).

Figure 12: Enterprises by type of health risk, 2009

Figure 12: Enterprises by type of health risk, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia, Working Life Survey 2009

According to the survey, 42.9% of employees are exposed to health risks such as working with display screen movement, monotonous movements (35.8%) and moving of weights over 5kg (24%) at least 25% of their working time.

The use of preventative measures and management of risks was high among both enterprises (96.5%) and employees (95.6%). The most used preventative measure in both cases was the use of safe work practices (see Figure 13). However, enterprises used the adjustment of tools, work environment and work management almost as much (90.2%). The use of personal defence equipment to prevent and manage risks was the smallest compared to other preventative measures used by enterprises and employees.

Figure 13: The use of preventative measures and management of health risks at work by enterprises and employees, 2009

Figure 13: The use of preventative measures and management of health risks at work by enterprises and employees, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia, Working Life Survey 2009

Work accidents had occurred in 6% of all enterprises during the last 12 months, according to the survey.

Almost 70% of all enterprises have implemented health-promotion activities. The highest share of enterprises doing this is among state and local government agencies (86.1%) and in larger enterprises (94.1%), while the lowest is among non-profit associations (38.8%) and in small enterprises (60.4%).

Intrestingly, the share of employees who have participated in health-promotion activities is lower than the percentage of enterprises who have launched them (51.2%). The share of participating employees is highest among employees working in non-profit associations (63.4%) and lowest in private companies (48.6%).

The share of employees who have participated in health-promotion activities is also higher among male employees, white collar workers (associate professionals and senior officials) and employees aged 25–49 (see Figure 14).

Figure 14: Participation in health promoting activities during the last 12 months by gender, age and occupation, 2009

Figure 14: Participation in health promoting activities during the last 12 months by gender, age and occupation, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia, Working Life Survey 2009

In 64.6% of all enterprises, employees have had health checks during last three years. The share of enterprises whose employees have had health checks is highest in private companies (67.9%) and lowest in non-profit organisations (40.9%). By company size, the share of enterprises where over 80% of employees have undergone health checks is higher in large enterprises with 50–249 employees, and 250 and more employees (56.3% and 60.4% respectively). Of all employees surveyed, 61.4% had visited an occupational health doctor for health checks during their current employment. The share of employees who have visited an occupational health specialist is highest among state and local government agencies (68.9%), plant and machine operators and assemblers (70.6%) and older employees aged 50-64 (65.4%) (see Figure 15).

Figure 15: Employees’ visits to an occupational health doctor by age and occupation, 2009

Figure 15: Employees’ visits to an occupational health doctor by age and occupation, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia, Working Life Survey 2009

Conclusion

The findings of the survey showed that most Estonian enterprises are not covered by a collective agreement. Collective agreements are mostly concluded in larger enterprises and more older workers are covered by collective agreements. Employee representatives are also more common in larger enterprises. According to the survey, most Estonian companies have evaluated health risks, and preventative measures and management of health risks are widely used by both employers and employees. Most enterprises have also implemented health-promotion activities and most employees have had health checks. The results of the survey are used for analysing different aspects of working life and for improving policies that affect the working lives of Estonians.The Ministry of Social Affairs has published an analytical publication on the Working life Survey 2009 focusing on various aspects of the survey.

References

Statistics Estonia (2011), Working Life Survey 2009

Statistics Estonia (2011), Working Life Survey 2009, Methodological Report, available online at www.stat.ee/dokumendid/51262

Liina Osila and Kirsti Nurmela, PRAXIS Center for Policy Studies

EF/12/05

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