Industrial relations in road transport examined

Though social dialogue and collective bargaining at sector level in Estonia are relatively poorly developed, the road transport industry is an exception. Trade unions and employers’ organisations meet regularly and conclude sector-wide collective agreements. Bargaining at enterprise level is also relatively well developed in road transport. This article provides an overview of industrial relations in this sector in summer 2004, with bargaining over a new sectoral agreement due to start soon.

In Estonia, social dialogue and collective bargaining at sectoral level is not very common and most bargaining takes place at enterprise level (EE0309102F). However, in the road transport sector, social dialogue is relatively developed at both sectoral and enterprise level, compared with other sectors .

Social dialogue at sectoral level

Bipartite collective bargaining at sectoral level has taken place in road transport since 1992. There is one trade union organisation - the Estonian Transport and Road Workers’ Trade Union (Eesti Transpordi ja Teetöötajate Ametiühing, ETTA) - and two employers’ organisations - the Union of Estonian Automobile Enterprises (Autoettevõtete Liit, AL) and the Association of Estonian International Road Carriers (Eesti Rahvusvaheliste Autovedajate Assotsiatsioon, ERAA). ERAA participated in social dialogue in 2002, but does not actively do so at present, though there is still a high possibility that it will participate again in the future.

ETTA and AL concluded the first sectoral collective agreement in 1992 and have renewed it almost every year since. Although the collective agreement has a two-year duration, negotiations take place every year. In 2001, the working time, rest periods and pay laid down by the agreement were extended to cover all employers and employees dealing with freight and passenger transport. According to the Collective Agreements Act, the provisions on remuneration and working and rest time laid down in collective agreements concluded by employers’ associations and trade unions, or their respective confederations, may be extended (beyond the membership of the signatories) by agreement of the parties. The scope of the extension is to be determined in the collective agreement. International freight transport was included in the agreement in 2001, but in 2002 it was excluded, as ERAA, which represents enterprises in international freight transport by land, took part in the negotiations but did not agree with the deal reached.

In 2004, Estonia's only valid extended collective agreement is that in road transport. There was also an extended collective agreement in the healthcare sector in 2002, but in the following year this agreement was not extended to the whole sector (EE0307101N).

The current collective agreement for the road transport sector was signed in December 2002. It came into force in January 2003 and is valid until the end of 2004. At the time of signing, it covered 5,395 employees, or 34.2% of the sector's workforce. This agreement regulates:

  • the conclusion of employment contracts;
  • the conditions of remuneration, minimum hourly wage rates for blue-collar workers and minimum monthly salary rates for white-collar workers;
  • working and rest time, and working time calculation;
  • occupational safety and healthcare;
  • relationships between employers and trade unions;
  • in-service training; and
  • social guarantees.

Key aspects of the agreement include its provisions setting minimum pay rates and 35 days' annual leave (normally, annual leave is only 28 days in Estonia). Though the minimum pay rates are not very significant, as the majority of employers in the sector pay more anyway, the annual leave provisions makes a big difference. ETTA and AL cooperate in monitoring the observance of the collective agreement by enterprises in the sector.

ERAA left the negotiations in 2002 because it considered the demands of ETTA as too high a price to pay for industrial peace. As AL regards industrial peace as very important (especially in passenger transport), it has continued with bargaining. However, it believes that the conditions of the agreement are too strict for employers and that the agreement covers too many different branches of activity. It has thus suggested that there should be several collective agreements in the sector instead of one comprehensive one, and that the agreed provisions should be less restrictive.

As the current collective agreement will expire at the end of 2004, ETTA has drawn up a proposal for a new collective agreement for 2005. ETTA submitted this proposal to AL in May 2004, and hopes to start negotiations in September and to conclude the new agreement before the end of the year. The main difference between the present agreement and the union's proposal is that latter would increase minimum hourly wage rates.

ETTA argues that separate agreements laying down different employment conditions in the subsectors of road transport would make it more difficult to monitor whether employers fulfil the agreement. Therefore, according to ETTA, the trend should be towards even greater harmonisation of conditions.

Social dialogue at enterprise level

Social dialogue at enterprise level in the road transport sector takes place between ETTA's enterprise-level sections and individual employers. At the moment, about 7% of road transport enterprises and 16% of employees are covered by collective agreements concluded at enterprise level. The firms that have concluded their own collective agreement are the largest ones in the sector. These agreements do not increase overall bargaining coverage in the industry, because these firms are all covered by the sectoral collective agreement anyway.

The majority of enterprise-level collective agreements in the sector cover all workers in the firm and not only members of the trade union. However, there are sometimes a few clauses in these collective agreements that concern only trade union members - for example, those on extra benefits such as death benefit and Christmas bonuses. Above all, enterprise-level agreements regulate pay and working time. In addition, they usually also regulate: occupational health and safety; the conditions for suspension, amendment and termination of employment contracts; conditions and procedures for the lay-off of employees and guarantees in the event of such lay-offs; facilities for employees; and special working conditions for shop stewards. However, these clauses usually copy the relevant legislation to a large extent.

The duration of enterprise-level collective agreements in road transport is usually one year, or occasionally two. Hence, the collective agreements are generally renegotiated every year. ETTA tries to avoid concluding collective agreements that are valid for more than two years.

Successful development of social dialogue

One of the reasons why the social dialogue is so well developed in road transport is that there are employers' organisations that ETTA can negotiate with. The absence of employers' organisations (or the existence of only very weak organisations) is quite often the reason why sectoral collective bargaining does not take place in Estonia. In road transport, employers' organisations are to a considerable degree representative - together, the affiliated members of AL and ERAA employ about 60% of all workers in road transport. AL groups employers in inland and international passenger transport and in inland freight transport, and has 46 member companies (mainly large enterprises), which employ about 5,500 workers. ERAA groups enterprises involved in international freight transport, and has 397 members and 53 candidate members, which employ over 5,000 workers.

Another reason for the advanced social dialogue in road transport is that ETTA is a relatively active trade union, especially in recent years. ETTA organises mainly workers in road transport and highway work, mechanics and workers in aviation. It has organised two successful warning strikes by bus drivers (in 1996 and 2002), and set up its own strike fund and unemployment fund. It is one of the founders of the Federation of Transport Workers’ Trade Unions (Transpordi Ametiühingute Föderatsioon, TAF), which brings together five trade unions in transport sector. In addition, ETTA initiated a joint strike pact that was signed in September 2003 by ETTA and two other major trade unions (EE0310101N). Since then, two additional trade unions have joined the pact and it now covers about 13,000 trade union members.

ETTA's activity has helped it to recruit more members and, for the first time in many years, its membership has increased in 2004. At the end of the second quarter of 2004, ETTA had 4,757 members (18.1% of the sector's workforce).

Commentary

The reasons for the advanced social dialogue in road transport may lie in a very active trade union organisations and the existence of representative employers’ organisations with which it can negotiate. However, it may also be due to the specific nature of the sector. Any industrial action in transport, especially in passenger transport, would affect everyday life very strongly, and hence employers may be more open to negotiating and concluding agreements in this sector. The results of the two warning strikes organised by ETTA also affirm this.

ETTA, together with the Estonian Railworkers’ Trade Union (Eesti Raudteelaste Ametiühing) and Estonian Sailors’ Independent Trade Union (Eesti Meremeeste Sõltumatu Ametiühing) ,concluded Estonia's first strike pact in September 2003. The pact was initiated by ETTA and its objective is to provide mutual support through sympathy actions. Since them, two additional trade unions have joined the pact - the Power Engineers’ Trade Union of Narva (Narva Energia Ametiühing) and the Estonian Nurses' Union (Eesti Õdede Liit) - and it now covers about 13,000 trade union members. (Kaia Philips and Raul Eamets, University of Tartu)

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