New collective agreement for rescue workers, police and border guards

In December 2009, after lengthy negotiations, a nationwide collective agreement was concluded, establishing the minimum monthly salary rate for police officers, border guards and rescue workers, as well as the work organisation of the Rescue Board for 2010. Under the agreement, the minimum rank-based salaries for 2010 will remain at the same level as in 2009. However, rescue workers are not satisfied as 38 of them will still be made redundant.

Government cutbacks

In June 2009, the Minister of the Interior, Marko Pomerants, announced that due to economic difficulties, the salary of rescue workers, border guards and police officers would be cut by 8% as of 1 July 2009. Moreover, additional cutbacks and even lay-offs were expected for 2010 due to budget constraints. Pay cuts were deemed necessary to maintain all jobs until the end of 2009. Further negotiations over the 2010 collective agreement were postponed until November 2009.

Negotiations

In November, the Ministry of Interior (Siseministeerium) started negotiations with the trade union representing police officials, border guards and rescue workers – namely, the Confederation of Trade Unions of State and Local Government Employees (Riigi- ja Omavalitsusasutuste Töötajate Ametiühingute Liit, ROTAL). The aim of the talks was to reach an agreement on 2010 salary rates and changes in work organisation. The ministry declared that, due to the economic recession and cutbacks in the budget, the budget of the Estonian Rescue Board (Päästeamet) for 2010 would be cut by EEK 51.2 million (about €3.3 million) compared with 2009; of these cuts, EEK 49.5 million (€3.2 million) would come from personnel costs. This would mean the redundancy of 110 rescue workers from March 2010.

ROTAL rejected the idea and proposed two alternatives to avoid redundancies: firstly, to restore the 24-hour on-call shift that was shortened in 2008 (EE0708019I); and secondly, to lower wages in exchange for maintaining jobs. However, the ministry did not agree with the proposals, arguing that a further wage reduction would make the salaries of rescue workers disproportionately small compared with those of other public officials.

Police officials and border guards, on the other hand, managed to avoid redundancies by agreeing with the Ministry of Interior to take additional leave without pay to reduce the budget deficit. Rescue workers also offered to take additional unpaid leave of 96 hours as a second alternative, to save the missing EEK 23 million (€1.5 million) and avoid lay-offs. However, the ministry refused, arguing that rescue workers’ capability to react to call-outs in time would suffer because additional leave would create a shortage of personnel and thus prolong the reaction time.

In response, the rescue workers, who had significant support from the public, threatened to go on strike in the event of redundancies, unless the ministry was able to allocate extra resources from the state budget in the region of EEK 15 million (€959,672).

New collective agreement reached

Finally, after long negotiations, ROTAL and the Ministry of Interior concluded a national collective agreement for 2010. The parties agreed that, starting from 1 January 2010, the minimum rank-based monthly salary for a 40-hour working week will be EEK 8,280 (€529) for police officers and border guards, and between EEK 6,900 (€441) and EEK 9,200 (€588) for rescue workers depending on their ranking. The salaries are to be maintained at the same level as that in 2009, although cutbacks have reduced the Rescue Board budget to a similar level as that in 2006–2007.

In terms of the work organisation of rescue workers, the collective agreement established a 24-hour on-call shift, of which 22 hours are to be considered working time and two hours are to be allocated for breaks. The agreement also enacted an additional seven days’ vacation for rescue workers for 2010. Despite the changes, 38 jobs will be cut in March 2010. The management of the Rescue Board emphasised that the resulting changes in the Rescue Board’s structure will not reduce the availability of rescue services to the public. Moreover, the changes in working time will enable an increase in the number of rescue units from 42 to 64 units.

Reactions to agreement

The Estonian Trade Union Confederation (Eesti Ametiühingute Keskliit, EAKL) supported the rescue workers in their claims and announced that the state should not introduce cuts in areas that are necessary for maintaining the security of the public. Rescue workers have stated that the redundancy of their 38 colleagues in March is unacceptable. However, no comments have been issued thus far regarding the possibility of further action.

Liina Osila and Kirsti Nurmela, PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies

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