EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Telework in Estonia

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Since the beginning of 2006, no statutory changes were made to telework regulations in Estonia. In 2007, however, a series of articles was published in the framework of the European Union’s EQUAL programme which investigates different forms of flexible work and their impact on work–life balance. The articles also analysed the implementation of telework in Estonia.

Prevalence of telework

Earlier surveys – such as the third working conditions survey in 2005 (EE0602102F) – indicate that flexible forms of work, including telework, are not widespread in Estonia and give a breakdown of teleworkers according to their sex.

In 2005, the proportion of teleworkers decreased slightly to 23% from 30% in 2002. However, a qualitative survey, carried out in 2007, to investigate the use of flexible forms of work at company level indicates that employers have started to invest in telework enabling the use of technologies (Naelapea, 2007). Together with the availability of advanced information and communication technologies (ICT), the implementation of flexible work arrangements depends on individual occupations.

According to Anspal and Karu (2007), men are prevailing among teleworkers, corresponding to almost two thirds of workers making use of such flexible work arrangements. Nevertheless, the proportion of women among teleworkers in Estonia is still higher than the European average, amounting to 33% in Estonia compared with the EU average of 25%. Moreover, telework in Estonia is in most cases not related to taking care of small children as could be expected: only 5% of female teleworkers have young children under the age of six years.

Regulatory framework

No specific regulatory framework in relation to telework has been developed in Estonia. In general, the implementation of telework must be in line with the provisions of the Employment Contracts Act which entered into force in July 1992. More detailed provisions may be agreed in individual employment contracts.

However, the Estonian employment legislation is currently being updated in order to allow for greater flexibility in the labour market. To date, the Ministry of Social Affairs (Sotsiaalministeerium) is working on the draft version of a new Employment Contracts Act. The draft should be presented to parliament for discussion at the beginning of 2008. Unfortunately, no information has yet emerged as to whether the new Employment Contracts Act includes specific regulations on telework.

Moreover, according to the assessment of legal experts of the Estonian Law Centre Foundation (Eesti Õiguskeskus), the implementation of specific regulations on telework at national level is highly unlikely (Plaks et al, 2007); implementing such regulations appears to be rather difficult since many different forms of teleworking have developed. In their assessment, the legal experts conclude that national legislation should provide for the equal rights of teleworkers, in line with other employees. It should also ensure that employers fulfil all of their obligations to each of their employees regardless of individual working arrangements. Nonetheless, the specifications of a teleworkers’ employment relationship should continue to be regulated by company-level collective agreements or individual employment contracts. In addition, it was declared that the legislative amendment should allow for the division of responsibilities between the employer and the teleworker. At present, the responsibilities regarding the working environment and working equipment rest entirely with the employer. However, in a case where the teleworker is working at home, it is difficult for the employer to have control over these aspects without contravening the privacy of the teleworker. Therefore, in some cases, the responsibilities should be divided.

Employment and working conditions

In terms of employment and working conditions, no legislative differences exist with regard to teleworkers and permanent workers. Accordingly, Plaks et al (2007) emphasise that the principle of equal treatment for teleworkers and permanent employees is an important dimension of any telework arrangement: both have the same rights and obligations deriving from the employment legislation. In practice, however, it is problematic for the employer to control the working conditions and working time of teleworkers. Furthermore, it is difficult to guarantee the implementation of work safety and health protection requirements at a workplace outside the employer’s premises – that is, implementing health and safety requirements for teleworkers, especially for those working from home or from other premises not under the control of the employer. At the same time, the issue of responsibility is also disputable in these cases.

Moreover, implementing a telework arrangement should be strictly voluntary for both the worker and employer. This also means that both parties have to be able to end the telework arrangement if required and that the employee must be able to return to work at the employer’s premises. This agreement should be indicated in the contract defining the telework arrangement between the worker and employer.

References

Anspal, S. and Karu, M., ‘Paindlikud töövormid Euroopas ja Eestis’ [Flexible forms of work in Europe and Estonia], in Vaher, B. and Seeder, K. (eds.), Töö ja pere: paindlik töökorraldus ja lastevanemate tööhõive, Tallinn, Estonian Employer Confederation, EQUAL, 2007.

Naelapea, A., ‘Paindliku töökorralduse rakendamist mõjutavad tegurid: Eesti ettevõtete kogemused ja praktikad’ [Factors influencing the application of flexible work organisation: experience and practices of Estonian enterprises], in Vaher, B. and Seeder, K. (eds.), Töö ja pere: paindlik töökorraldus ja lastevanemate tööhõive, Tallinn, Estonian Employer Confederation, EQUAL, 2007.

Plaks, C., Kõressaar, K., Haljasmäe, R., Koha, K. and Huberg, M., ‘Paindlikkus töösuhetes õiguslikust vaatepunktist’ [Flexibility in employment relations from the legislative point of view], in Vaher, B. and Seeder, K. (eds.), Töö ja pere: paindlik töökorraldus ja lastevanemate tööhõive, Tallinn, Estonian Employer Confederation, EQUAL, 2007.

Kirsti Nurmela, PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies

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