Tripartite agreement on measures to maintain jobs

In March 2009, representatives of several Estonian ministries, trade unions and employer organisations reached an agreement on principles for maintaining employment levels and helping more effectively people who are registered as unemployed. Several measures in the areas of lifelong learning, social security and flexible employment possibilities were proposed.

On 24 March 2009, representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs (Sotsiaalministeerium), the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (Majandus- ja Kommunikatsiooniministeerium), the Ministry of Education and Research (Haridus- ja Teadusministeerium), the Estonian Trade Union Confederation (Eesti Ametiühingute Keskliit, EAKL) and the Estonian Employers’ Confederation (Eesti Tööandjate Keskliit, ETK) agreed in a tripartite meeting on several measures to tackle the current economic recession. The main purpose of the social partner agreement is to maintain jobs and provide effective help for registered unemployed people. In April 2009, the Minister of Social Affairs, Hanno Pevkur, introduced the agreement to the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu). The timeframe for the agreement was not specified.

Lifelong learning initiatives

Participation rates in lifelong learning initiatives have been increasing in Estonia but they remain well below the EU 2010 target of 12.5% and the EU average. According to Statistics Estonia (Statistikaamet), in 2008, 9.8% of those aged 25–64 years had participated in lifelong learning initiatives during the four weeks prior to being surveyed. This indicator was 4.6% in 1997.

Several measures were proposed to make the vocational training system more effective. For example, it was considered important that unemployed people participating in training measures would be able to continue their training even if they find a job during the training period.

A new system of training vouchers was also proposed. In this case, a voucher with a fixed monetary value would be provided to unemployed people and could be used by recipients for participating in any training of interest to them. Currently, unemployed people have to wait for a group to be formed before they are able to undertake training. The new system would increase flexibility in providing vocational training. The voucher could also be used for financing professional examination.

For the same purpose, the social partners proposed to renew the financing system of vocational training. In cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Research, possibilities for using state-commissioned training for unemployed people will be developed. Currently, a rather inflexible system of public procurement procedures is used, which is time-consuming as new procedures have to be announced for each training course.

To keep vocational training in line with labour market demand, an analysis to assess the demand for qualified workers in the labour market was proposed. In line with this, ETK has agreed to give quarterly input to the Ministry of Social Affairs on the training needs in enterprises. This could lead to the training of better qualified workers in these fields.

Training and flexible employment promotion

Some of the proposed measures also combine lifelong learning and flexible employment. For example, combining part-time work with expanding and developing qualifications was proposed as a cautionary measure for those at risk of redundancy or losing their job. Employers are provided an additional opportunity to implement reduced working time in combination with additional training measures during a one-year period. Under the current system, employers have the right to implement reduced working time for a maximum of three months during a one-year period. No requirement for participation in training measures is currently specified.

To promote the implementation of flexible forms of work, employers call for the development and implementation of job-sharing principles. Also in cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and employer representatives, training sessions will be available for employers or entrepreneurs on possibilities for maintaining jobs – that is, identifying possible alternatives to redundancies.

Social security measures

To improve the services provided to unemployed people, the implementation of electronic services was proposed by the parties to the agreement. In this regard, registering as unemployed, as well as notification of services and vacant positions will be possible through electronic information channels. In addition, it is proposed to extend the maximum length of labour market training to two years instead of one year at present. This would enable the provision of longer-term training measures for unemployed people, which would, for instance, allow young unemployed people to continue their studies.

In the situation where vacant positions are scarce in the private sector, local municipalities will be called upon to recruit unemployed people for community jobs, especially gardening work. Furthermore, to support unemployed people in becoming entrepreneurs and creating jobs for themselves, the parties proposed to extend the eligibility for enterprise support to those unemployed persons who would like to establish a non-profit association as an alternative form of work.

Kirsti Nurmela and Marre Karu, PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies

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