Disputes over a new Employees’ Representatives Act
In November 2005, the Ministry of Social Affairs sent a draft of the Employees’ Representatives Act to the social partners for consultation, but met immediately a severe opposition from trade unions. The aim of the act is to transpose the EU Directive on national information and consultation rules, which Estonia should have ratified already by March 2005.
In the beginning of November 2005, the Ministry of Social Affairs (Sotsiaalministeerium) sent the draft of the new Employees’ Representatives Act to the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (Eesti Ametiühingute Keskliit, EAKL) (EE0308101F) and to the Estonian Employers’ Confederation (Eesti Tööandjate Keskliit, ETTK) (EE0310102F) for consultation. The current version of the Employees’ Representatives Act dates back to 1993. The main reason for developing a new act derived from the obligation to transpose the Directive on national information and consultation rules (2002/14/EC) (EU0204207F), which should have been transposed to Estonian legislation already by March 2005. The first attempt to transpose the Directive on national information and consultation rules was in the form of the Social Dialogue Act, which was never approved due to criticism of EAKL and ETTK (EE0403101F, EE0502101N). The planned date of entry into force of the new act is January 2006 and in addition it is planned to introduce some changes in the Trade Unions Act (EE0308101F), Employment Contracts Act (EE0309101N, EE0405103F) and Wages Act, which have all originated from the general conception of the draft.
The new draft aims at changing the procedure of electing employees’ representatives and specifying their authorisation in representing employees. According to the draft, a representative does not have necessarily to be a member of a trade union. A representative has to be an employee, authorised by a general meeting of employees. According to the draft, there would be two channels of employees’ representation in Estonia - all the employees are represented by the employees’ representative in questions connected with their jobs and the members of the trade unions are represented by the elected trade union members, whose rights and duties are established by the Trade Unions Act.
EAKL reacted to the draft very actively, claiming that the purpose of the draft seems to be close down unions’ activities in Estonia. It argued that according to the draft, the employees’ representatives would lose their present rights in communicating with an employer and the employer would appoint the representatives in essence. EAKL has repeatedly stated that the current Employees’ Representatives Act is sufficient for the obligation of information and consultation.
Ministry of Social Affairs rejects the accusations of EAKL. It declares that the purpose of the new act is to provide equal opportunities to be informed and protect their interests for all the employees, not only for union members. In addition, at present only around 10% of employees are members of trade unions and according to current system, representatives of trade unions are not authorised to present all employees in an enterprise.
ETTK sees in EAKL’s reaction only a fear of competition. It assumes that the draft would create a democratic situation, as according to this new act all employees in an enterprise would have a possibility to elect a representative. However, according to a study conducted by the PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies, the influence of non-union employees’ representatives is small among the employees themselves, which is mainly result of employees’ lack of interest.
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