Estonia: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018

Company-level collective bargaining, occupational health and safety, foreign workforce, and measures to prevent unemployment are the topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Estonia in the first quarter of 2018.

Collective bargaining

Two company-level collective disputes received a lot of attention during the first quarter of the year. Workers at a meat production company called HKScan Estonia AS went on strike, demanding a pay rise, but the strike has already lasted for two months, which is extremely unusual for Estonia. Meanwhile, another long-running dispute appears to be coming to an end. Over a period of more than two years, the banking company Luminor (previously known as Nordea) has seen demonstrations, conflicts, and the unlawful dismissal of a trade union representative. However, at the end of 2017, the sector-level Union of Estonian Financial Sector Employees took over the negotiations with the bank and, in March 2018, they managed to complete an agreement which will form a basis for mutual trust and future negotiations.

Changes to occupational health and safety

Parliament is currently discussing changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which are expected to come into force in 2019. The changes will decrease bureaucracy and provide more flexibility: for example, employers will no longer have to notify the Labour Inspectorate of minor work accidents and, if occupational health and safety requirements are violated, then employer and employee may be able to agree on a penal fine. They will also help to prevent health problems and create a safer working environment by tying employees’ regular occupational health checks more strongly to actual environmental risk, and bring more attention to psychosocial hazards, by defining the risks and the employer’s obligations in relation to them.

Helping foreign workers  to access the labour market

The issue of foreign workforce entering the Estonian labour market, and how to handle the immigration quota more flexibly, came under more focused discussion. In February 2018, the Government approved some of the proposals that would help more foreign workforce entering the labour market. Initially, people from outside the EU (third-country nationals) working for less than nine months were excluded from the immigration quota, but this has been now extended to 12 months. In addition to specialists from ICT sector, the Government decided to exclude all senior-level specialists (those whose gross wage is at least twice the national average) from the quota, irrespective of their sector or field of activity.

Supporting inactive young people

The Ministry of Social Affairs announced that a support system for young people not in employment, education or training will be developed. It aims at establishing an IT tool for local governments, who would then be able to identify eligible young people in their community and proactively offer them help, counselling and support for finding a job. Proposed legislative changes in this area have yet to be approved. The new system will be tested and piloted between 2018 and 2020.

In March 2018, the Unemployment Insurance Fund announced that it will widen its eligibility criteria for labour market training, or support for studies, and the wage limit was raised from median wage to national average wage. Those hired under other contracts (in addition to an employment contract or civil service contract) will also be eligible for such support. Plans are also being put into place for all recipients of the Unemployment Insurance Fund to receive basic training, covering language and computer skills.

Commentary

The HKScan strike will be interesting to follow, as there have only been a few strikes in Estonia overall and this one is unusually long. Upcoming developments in 2018 are likely to include pension reform and the second phase of the parental leave reform which should be approved during 2018.

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