Estonia: Latest developments in working life Q1 2019

The activities of the new trade union in the higher education sector, a new collective agreement in the transport sector, and changes to the occupational health and safety act 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 2019.

Strong start for new academic trade union

In December 2018, a new trade union was formed in Estonia. The Council of Academic Trade Unions (Akadeemiliste Ametiühingute Nõukogu) unites four trade unions from three universities, but welcomes all other academics too. The new trade union aims to help the government make better decisions regarding funding for education and science, as well as improving the working conditions of academic personnel. For this, it cooperates with Universities Estonia (an association representing universities), the Ministry of Education and Research, and other science- and education-related organisations.

The Council of Academic Trade Unions was very active during the first quarter of 2019. In February, it launched a campaign to draw attention to the holiday conditions of academics. In March, it started to prepare a collective agreement project (to be concluded with Universities Estonia), which will establish minimum wage, working time and rest time conditions for all employees in the higher education sector.

New collective agreement for transport sector

A collective agreement for transport sector employees was concluded during the first quarter of 2019. The previous agreement was concluded in 2013 and set the minimum pay for freight transport employees at €620 per month. Negotiations for the new agreement started in 2018 and the draft agreement was published for public consultation in December 2018. In January 2019, the new agreement was signed and the minimum pay of freight transport employees will be increased to €950 a month as of 1 May 2019, €1,000 a month from 2020 and €1,100 a month from 2021.

New year brings about health and safety changes

In January 2019, changes were introduced to the Occupational Health and Safety Act for the first time in decades. The changes have the following aims.

  • Reduce bureaucracy: For example, employers will no longer have to notify the Labour Inspectorate when minor work accidents occur.
  • Provide more flexibility: For example, employers and employees will have the option to agree on a penal fine if an occupational health and safety requirement has been violated. This shares the responsibility.
  • Prevent possible damage to health and create safer working environments: For example, by tying regular occupational health checks for employees more strongly to the actual risks in their environments. More attention will also be given to psychosocial hazards by defining the actual risks and employer-related obligations.

Both the Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL) and the Estonian Employers’ Confederation (ETKL) agree with the changes in general. However, the EAKL emphasises the need to concentrate more on collaboration between employers and employees, and on improving how workplace risk analyses are conducted. The ETKL believes that employees should take greater responsibility when it comes to workplace accidents and that issues related to remote work should be taken into account (i.e. an employer cannot be responsible for the working environment when an employee works from home).

Commentary

The main topic of interest during the first quarter of 2019 was the parliamentary elections, which took place on 3 March 2019. Prior to the elections, several related topics such as the tax system were discussed in the media in anticipation of the actions of the prospective new government coalition. However, the new coalition was still not in place by the end of March and the media’s focus shifted to possible changes to the funded pension system.

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