Union survey suggests that a quarter of Estonians are willing to work in Finland

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In March 1998, Finland's SAK trade union confederation commissioned a survey, enquiring about the willingness of Estonians to move to Finland and their views on some labour market and industrial relations issues. According to the results - published in June - over a quarter of those interviewed would be at least "quite willing" to work in Finland. While SAK is worried about the implications for Finnish jobs, employers doubt whether Estonians are really willing to move to Finland for the sake of work.

In March 1998, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) commissioned a survey in Estonia, asking about Estonians' willingness to move to Finland, which is a near neighbour, and seeking their opinions on a number of labour market and industrial relations matters. The sample was considered representative of about 1.1 million Estonians aged between 15 and 74 years (out of a total of 1.46 million).

The Estonians were asked the following question:

The negotiations concerning Estonian membership of the EU will start soon. The EU principles include a common labour market and the right freely to seek work in different Member States. If Estonia becomes an EU member, how willing will you be to come and work in Finland for a longer or shorter period?.

According to the results - published in SAK Tutkimustieto 4/98 in June 1998 - over a quarter (27%) of the Estonians surveyed are at least "quite willing" to come for work in Finland, if Estonia becomes an EU member. This would mean about 300,000 Estonians (the total Finnish labour force currently stands at 2.63 million). According to the survey, particular note should be taken of the group of 7% (77,000) who say that they are "very eager" to work in Finland. The group of potential immigrants contains more than an average proportion of young people under 25 years of age, those who live in Tallinn (the Estonian capital) or in other towns and those who are unemployed.

Of particular relevance for the labour market are the requirements of the Estonians regarding potential work in Finland. On the pay issue, the majority (67%) say that, before they will move to work in Finland, their pay level has to be at least the same as for Finns. One-fifth would be satisfied with a slightly lower level than that for Finns. A level clearly below or far below what Finns receive would satisfy only a very small group.

When moving to Finland, about half of the Estonians would be ready to do as much overtime as the employer wanted (49%) and a similar proportion (47%) would be prepared to "moonlight" (to work for money without paying taxes). The informal sector has great influence in the Estonian national economy. A notable proportion of the Estonians would be prepared to come to Finland for part-time work (40%) and on short-term contracts without any security that the work would continue in the future. Over a quarter (27%) would consent to work without protection against unilateral termination of the employment relationship.

Those Estonians who would consent to work on less favourable terms than Finns represent younger age groups, the Russian population (often with a high level of education), those who live in the largest towns and those presently unemployed.

Attitudes to labour market and industrial relations issues

Attitudes concerning labour market and industrial relations policy were elicited by asking the respondents' opinions on each of six propositions. In terms of content, three of these could be considered as concerning the employment contract or collective agreement procedures. Three other statements were intended to measure what kind of expectations and requirements the Estonians had with regard to the labour movement.

The Estonians strongly uphold employees' rights. A large majority (74%) agree with the proposition that "the minimum conditions must be agreed on by means of collective agreements, because a single employee cannot agree concerning his/her wage on an equal basis with the employer." Relatively few believe that the position of the employee would be improved through individual agreements: 56% of the Estonians considered it likely that "employees are in a weak position if the agreements on wages and other conditions of employment relationship are concluded entirely at the workplace."

On the other hand, the opinions expressed on collective agreements are quite contradictory. This can be concluded from the finding that 58% of the Estonians accept the right of the employer to "hire employees for an employment relationship on conditions by which the employees personally consent to work without any kind of collective agreements". The contradictory attitudes of the Estonians can be explained by the fact that individual employment agreements are accepted as a reality of modern Estonian society. Agreements are concluded mainly at individual level between employer and employee, without collective agreements.

Expectations of the labour movement and effects of EU membership

The Estonians' expectations directed towards the labour movement are high. The majority (85%) think that "there should be a strong labour movement in Estonia, that can negotiate and agree with the employers concerning national agreements on terms of employment, which are binding for the different parties involved." In relation to potential EU membership, most of the Estonians (88%) say that "the labour movement should take care that Estonia will never become a country of cheap labour."

Neither positive nor negative expectations concerning EU membership are strong in Estonia; this can be interpreted either as uncertainty or as variation between opinions concerning the effects.

A majority of the survey respondents (56%) think it unlikely that wages in Estonia would increase to the level of other EU countries as an consequence of membership. Furthermore, a majority (54%) suspect that social and economic inequality there will increase further. Only 36% believe that the employment situation will improve as a consequence of EU membership.

Social partners' views

According to SAK department chief, Eero Heinäluoma, the survey provides "a lot of food for thought". He considers it most important for the Finnish labour movement to hold on tightly to the minimum conditions laid down by collective agreements and even strengthen them. The labour market "rules of the game" in EU candidate countries too also be put in good order (quoted in the HS newspaper, 16 June 1998).

The director of collective bargaining for the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers (Teollisuuden ja Työnantajain Keskusliitto, TT), Risto Alanko, does not believe that Estonians would take jobs from Finns on becoming EU citizens. In his view, it is hardly to be expected that 300,000 Estonians would rush to Finland in large groups. It is more likely that they would come gradually. According to Mr Alanko, this could be controlled in the same way as before (quoted in the Demari newspaper, 16 June 1998).


The SAK survey has indicated that expansion of the EU to the east will probably increase the mobility of labour towards countries with a a higher standard of living. The negative effects of globalisation in terms of job losses have so far been experienced through EU companies moving their operations to countries where production is cheap. Now, with the EU expansion process and the right to seek work in other Member States, jobs can be threatened by cheap labour moving within the EU. On the other hand, labour mobility has not materialised in the way intended, even among the present Member States. As the SAK report points out, the possible threat posed by an imminent flow of the migrant workers should be taken seriously. In particular, the supply of labour prepared to work in the "informal" economy could cause problems if companies found the temptation too great. This would have a wider impact, even on industrial relations, if the minimum conditions of collective agreements came under threat. (Juha Hietanen, Ministry of Labour)

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