Estonia: Developments in working life – Q1 2016

Attempts to combat the shortage of skilled labour, ongoing debates on labour market issues, and negotiations on a collective agreement in the healthcare sector are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Estonia in the first quarter of 2016.

Simplified regulations  to tackle shortage of skilled labour

The lack of skilled labour in Estonia continued to be a topic of discussion in the first quarter of 2016. Changes to the Aliens Act came into force on 1 January 2016, simplifying application procedures for residency permits and procedures for hiring foreigners as temporary workers. However, the debate continues, with the Estonian Employers’ Confederation pointing out the need to ease the salary criterion set for employers who hire foreigners. In addition, the first results of the OKSA sytem – the coordinated system of labour market monitoring and future skills forecasting – were confirmed. These show, for example, the need to increase the number of specialists in information and communications technology in Estonia by 150%. Established at the end of 2014, the OKSA system is a platform for planning the structure, volume and content of educational services between employers and educational institutions, taking professional and occupational needs into account in a better way.

It was also announced that, from March 2016, additional funding will be offered to educational institutions for projects intended to persuade adults who have dropped out of school to return to the classroom. The aim is to help them complete their basic or general secondary education. The Estonian National Audit Office’s analysis of adults who have acquired a vocational education shows that, in general, completing a vocational education has a positive impact on an individual’s labour market outcomes.

Ongoing debates on labour market issues

Both the Estonian Trade Unions Confederation and the Estonian Employers’ Confederation have proposed that employers’ costs for health promotion should not be subject to tax.

The debate about the adequacy of employment law in light of new forms of work – which began in the final quarter of 2015 – has now led the Ministry of Social Affairs to start consultation with the social partners, asking for feedback and suggestions on the regulation of terms of employment and of working conditions (especially working time).

Parliament has also agreed with the Chancellor of Justice that the 2014 regulation prohibiting members of the board of management of a legal entity from registering as unemployed and receiving unemployment insurance benefits is not in accordance with the constitution or the fundamental right of equal treatment.

Negotiations on collective agreement for healthcare sector continue

In January, trade unions representing healthcare workers and employers started negotiations for the 2017–2018 collective agreement. The healthcare sector is one of two sectors that have concluded sector-level collective agreements in Estonia (the other sector is transport). Previous negotiations for new collective agreements have sometimes been difficult – with, for example, a 26-day strike in 2012. The negotiations do not seem to be going smoothly this time either. The expectations of workers in the sector for the new collective agreement are not being matched by the offers from the Estonian Health Insurance Fund and from employers. In March, the trade unions turned to the national conciliator to resolve the dispute.

New studies on equality issues

Issues of equal treatment and gender equality have been brought to the fore in this quarter in a number of studies. The Center for Policy Studies (Praxis) and market research company Emor studied the implementation of the Gender Equality Act among Estonian employers. The study found that knowledge of the act (which has been in force since 2004) is poor and employers do not fully empathise with the goal of gender equality. Two other studies, launched by the Commissioner for Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner, have looked at the overall state of equality in Estonian society and the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

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