Estonia: Industrial relations and occupational health and safety – second Work Life Survey 2015

This article summarises some of the results of the second Estonian Work Life Survey, conducted in 2015 by Statistics Estonia, focusing on its findings about industrial relations and occupational health and safety. The survey found low levels of collective agreements and employee representation in the workplace, low awareness among employees about their representatives and about agreements that affected them.

Work Life Survey

Statistics Estonia (SE) conducted its second Work Life Survey in early 2015 which covered the following areas:

  • work organisation, which gives an overview, for example, about types of concluded employment contracts, receiving performance pay and problems with receiving payments,  career and development opportunities, existence of employee representatives and trade union membership;
  • employers’ and employees’ satisfaction with, for example, work organisation and assignments, payments, possibilities to gain new skills, employees’ skills and knowledge, employees’ representatives.
  • working time, which gives an overview about part-time working and working during unusual hours, reasons for part-time working, employees’ preferences for working time;
  • occupational health and safety, which gives an overview about contacts with health risks and measures used for prevention and management of health risks.

The survey was conducted among two main groups:

  • economically active organisations with five or more employees – companies, non-profit associations and foundations, and state and local government agencies;
  • employees of those organisations.

Methodology

For the first part of the survey, organisations were selected through random sampling from SE’s Statistical Profile database of economically active units collated as part of the Business Register for Statistical Purposes, with a list of employees obtained from the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (ETCB). Data was then collected from organisations through web-based questionnaires in January and February 2015; the initial sample consisted of 1,600 organisations of which 848 (53%) completed the questionnaire.

The second part of the survey took place between March and June and involved questioning employees from the 848 organisations that responded, again using web-based questionnaires, but computer-assisted personal interviewing was conducted when needed. The sample consisted of 8,193 employees and 4,778 (58%) completed the questionnaire.

Note: The results cannot be compared with the first Estonian Work Life Survey, conducted in 2009, due to differences in methodology.

Key findings

  • The results show that overall employee representation either by an elected employee representative or by a trade union is not widespread among organisations, particularly in private companies. This is reflected by very low collective agreement coverage. Trade union membership is just 7.2% and only 3.9% of all organisations have a collective agreement.
  • There are more representatives and collective agreements in public sector agencies and in larger organisations. Surprisingly, more than a quarter of employees do not know if an employee representative or a collective agreement exists in their organisation.
  • Nearly all employers evaluate health risks in their organisations and the most common reason for this is to maintain the health and motivation of employees. Although most employees are exposed to health risks while working, nearly all use some kind of measures to prevent and manage these risks, for example using safe work practices or protective equipment, such as helmets.
  • Three quarters of employers reported that they implement health promoting activities, and half the employees surveyed said they take part in those activities. In a quarter of organisations, all employees have undergone a health check, and more than a half of employees said they had visited the occupational health doctor.

Collective agreement coverage 

According to data from the employers’ survey, working conditions were covered by collective agreements in just 3.9% of organisations. Collective agreements were more common in the public sector and among large organisations.

Collective agreements by organisation size and type

According to statistics in Figure 1, the percentage of organisations with a collective agreement was considerably higher in the public sector than the private sector; 9.3% of state and local government agencies reported that they have a collective agreement, compared with 4.5% of non-profit associations and foundations, and 3% of companies.

The size of organisation is also significant; more than a quarter (27.2%) of the largest organisations (those with more than 250 employees) have a collective agreement. This falls to 11.3% among medium-sized organisations (50–249 employees) and 4.1% in small organisations (10–49 employees).

Figure 1. Reported presence of collective agreements by type and size of organisations


Note: The share of non-profit associations and foundations and organisations with 10–49 employees who have a collective agreement was based on responses from fewer than 20 organisations.

Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Employees’ awareness of collective agreements

Just under a fifth (18.6%) of employees stated that their workplace was covered by a collective agreement, while more than a quarter (27.6%) said they did not know. The proportion of employees who did not know was highest (32.4%) in state and local government agencies as shown in Figure 2. This is despite the fact that the employers’ survey indicated that collective agreements were most common in the public sector.

Awareness levels and reported coverage of collective agreements were highest among employees of non-profit associations and foundations, with 37.1% saying they were covered by an agreement and 16.6% who said they did not know.

Figure 2: Reported presence of collective agreements by group of employees


Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Employee awareness by occupation

The reported collective agreement coverage rates are similar across employees in different occupations, as shown in Figure 3, varying from 17.1% (elementary occupations and armed forces occupations) to 20.1% (plant and machine operators and assemblers).

Larger differences occur in the case of employees who do not know if they are covered by a collective agreement. More than a third (36.6%) of skilled, craft and related trades workers do not know whether they are covered, compared with 23.1% of managers and professionals.

Figure 3. Reported presence of collective agreements by occupations


Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Awareness of collective agreements by age group

As collective agreement coverage has decreased over the years, it was expected that the reported presence of a collective agreement would be lower among younger employees. According to statistics shown in Figure 4, 25% of employees aged 65 and above and 21.8% of those aged 50–64 said they were covered by a collective agreement. Of the youngest age group (aged 15–24), 11.3% said they were covered, while 43% said they did not know. The proportion of older employees who did not know is just over half this amount: 24.1% in the 65 and over age group and 23.5% of those aged 50–64. The lower awareness level among younger people also suggests that collective agreements have become less important over the years.

Figure 4. Reported awareness of collective agreements by age


Note: The share of those aged 15–24 who are covered by a collective agreement was based on responses from fewer than 20 organisations.

Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Employee representation in the workplace

In Estonia, employees can be represented either by trade unions, regulated by the Trade Unions Act, or by elected employee representatives, regulated by the Employees’ Trustee Act. There are no thresholds, such as company size, for eligibility for representation, and both types of representative inform and consult with employees and conclude collective agreements with employers. However, elected employee representatives have the right to conclude agreements only where no trade union represents the employees.

Overall employee representation is not widespread in Estonia, which is one reason why the collective agreement coverage rate is low. According to the survey, an elected employee representative is present in 18% of all organisations, while trade unions are present in 5.8% of organisations.

Employee representation by type of organisation

The responses of employers in Figure 5 show that both forms of employee representation are most prevalent among state and local government agencies with 40.1% reporting to have an employee representative and 27.4% have a trade union, and is least common in companies with 14.9% and 2.7% respectively. This correlates with findings on collective agreement coverage in different sectors (see Figure 1).

Figure 5. Reported existence of employee representatives by type of organisation


Note: The share of non-profit associations and foundations that have a trade union in their company was based on fewer than 20 organisations.

Source: Statistics Estonia, Working Life Survey (2015).

Employee representation by size of organisations

Figure 6 shows that nearly half (47.8%) of the largest organisations reported that they had an employee representative and 39.2% said they had a trade union. In medium-sized companies, the figures were 40.4% (employee representative) and 21.1% (trade union), falling to 21.1% and 5.8% for small companies. These figures are consistent with the finding that there are more collective agreements in larger organisations (see Figure 1).

Figure 6. Reported existence of employee representatives by size of organisations


Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Employee awareness of workplace representatives

One fifth (20.1%) of the employees reported that they had an elected employee representative. However, as with collective agreements, awareness among employees was low. More than a third (34.8%) did not know if there was an employee representative in their workplace.

The proportion of employees who said they had an employee representative was highest among managers and professionals (22%) and lowest among service and sales workers (16.9%), as shown in Figure 7. Awareness was also lowest among the latter group: 43.3% of service and sales workers said they did not know if an employee representative existed in their organisation.

Figure 7. Reported existence of employee representative by occupations


Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Trade union membership

Trade union membership among employees in Estonia is very low at just 7.2%. The rate is highest among employees of non-profit associations and foundations (17.2% are members), followed by employees of state and local government agencies (11.6%), and employees of companies (5.2%). Just 4.4% of technicians, associate professionals and clerical support workers are union members, less than half the proportion of skilled workers, craft and related trades workers (9.5%).

Trade union membership by age and sex

Figure 8 shows that the membership rate is highest among 50–64-year-olds (10.3 %) and lowest in younger respondents (6.6% of 25–49 year-olds and 0.5% of 15–24-year-olds). Lower trade union membership among younger people shows again the decreasing value placed on industrial relations. There is little difference between the trade union membership rates of men and women (6.9% and 7.5%, respectively).

Figure 8. Trade union membership by age and sex


Note: The share of 15–24-year-olds who belong to a trade union was based on responses from fewer than 20 organisations.

Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey 2015.

Evaluation of employees' representatives and trade unions

​The employers’ satisfaction with the employee representatives’ work is rather positive, according to results presented in Figure 9. Among those who have an employee representative, 80.8% find the representative copes rather or very well with their role. Indifferent evaluation was given by 15.4% of employers. In comparison, trade unions evaluations are not so good. Only 45.9% of employers who have a trade union in their company find that the trade union copes very or rather well with their role, whilst 41.1% remained neutral.

The employees’ evaluations are more modest in case of employee representatives, as 64.4% of those who have an elected representative think the representatives perform their tasks rather or very well. Additionally, nearly a third (31.3%) of the employees, evaluate their representatives performance neutrally. Feedback on trade union activities showed that compared to employers, employees remain less positive in their evaluations with just 29.1% of employees saying that their trade union copes very or rather well in representing them, while 21.3% of employees did not have an opinion.

Figure 9. Employers' and employees' evaluation of employees' representatives and trade unions


Note: The option 'Cannot say' was only for an employee's evaluation of trade unions.

Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Occupational health and safety

Evaluation of health risks by size of organisations

Of all the employers that took part in the survey, 98.7% reported that they evaluate health risks in their organisations. When asked to choose the key reason for doing so, 49% chose maintaining the health and motivation of employees, 28.3% to comply with legislation and 21.5% to maintain the organisation’s good reputation and increase productivity.

Maintaining motivation and health was the most important reason across all sizes of organisations, as shown in Figure 10. Reputation and productivity was a more common reason among larger organisations: 34.9% of those with 250 or more employees and 34.4% of those with 50–249 employees gave this as the most important reason, compared with only 20.7% of organisations with 10–49 employees and 18.8% of organisations with 5–9 employees.

Small organisations were more likely to state that complying with legislation was the most important reason: 30.1% of small organisations (10–49 employees) and 28.1% of micro organisations (5–9 employees) chose this, compared with 22.3% of medium (50–249 employees) and 15.8% of large organisations.

Figure 10. Reasons for evaluation of health risks by size of organisations


Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Employees exposure to health risks at work

The evaluation of work-related health risks is clearly important, as 93.2% of employers in the survey reported that their employees are exposed to a significant level of health risks while at work. Overall, the most common risks were ‘working with display screen equipment’ (in 73.1% of organisations) and ‘moving weights of over 5 kg’ (57.8%).

More than three-quarters (88.1%) of employees said they were exposed to health risks in their workplace for at least 25% of the time, of which the most common health risks cited were working with display screen equipment (46.5%) and monotonous movements or positions causing fatigue or pain (41.2%), as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11. Employees self-reported contact to health risks by the type of health risk

Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Management of health risks at work

As Figure 12 shows, 96.2% of employers reported that they use some measures to prevent and manage health risks for employees; these included adjusting tools, the work environment and work management (91.6%).

Almost all employees (99.5%) reported that they too use some kind of preventive measure. Safe work practices (used by 78.7% of employees) was the most commonly cited measure, and least common was the use of personal defence equipment such as helmets, reported by a quarter (25.1%) of employees.

Figure 12. The use of preventive measures and management of health risks at work by employers and employees


Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Implementation of health-promoting activities

Just over three-quarters (76.7%) of employers said they implement health-promoting activities such as sports, vaccinations and health-related training. By sector, state and local government agencies (92.9%) were most likely to do so, followed by non-profit associations and foundations (82.6%) and companies (74%), as shown in Figure 13.

Larger organisations are more likely to implement such activities, with figures as high as 98.1% in organisations with more than 250 employees and 92.9% in those with 50–249 employees. Among smaller organisations, 79.2% of those with 10–49 employees and 69.4% of those with 5–9 employees carry out health-promoting activities.

Figure 13. Implementation of health promoting activities by type and size of organisations


Note: The share of non-profit associations and foundations and state and local government agencies and organisations (with 50–249 employees and 250 or more) where health promoting activities are not implemented was based on responses from fewer than 20 organisations.

Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Employees’ participation in health promoting activities

Although most employers said they implement health promoting activities, only half (53.1%) of the employee respondents reported taking part in them. While there is a considerable difference (10 percentage points) between the proportion of state and local government agencies and non-profit organisations that implement these activities, similar proportions of employees in both types of organisation are active participants; 65.8% and 65.6% respectively as shown in Figure 14. Less than half (48.6%) of private company employees take part in health promotion activities.

By occupation type, most active are managers and professionals, with 63.2% participating in health promoting activities. Only 36% of employees in elementary occupations and armed forces occupations take part.

Younger employees are more likely than older workers to take part in health promoting activities; 58.3% of those aged 25–49 participate, compared with 38.4% of employees aged 65 and over. There is almost no difference between men and women’s participation (53% and 53.2% respectively).

Figure 14. Employees’ participation in health promoting activities by type of organisation, occupation and age


Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

Occupational health checks

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, all employers are obliged to provide regular health checks for employees to monitor whether an employee's health is affected by their work. In 74.3% of all organisations, employees have undergone a health check during the last three years.

Close to two thirds (62.8%) of employees who took part in the survey said they had visited an occupational health doctor for a health check, as shown in Figure 15. By organisation type, the proportion was lowest in companies (61.4%) and highest in non-profit associations and foundations (68.1%).

By occupation, the proportion of employees who had visited an occupational health doctor was lowest among elementary occupations and armed forces occupations (57.3%) and highest among service and sales workers (67.1%).

The youngest and the oldest age groups were least likely (at 42.1% and 50.5% respectively) to have visited an occupational health doctor.

Figure 15. Employees' visits to occupational health doctor by type of organisation, occupation and age


Source: Statistics Estonia, Work Life Survey (2015).

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