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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Estonia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Estonia, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea66210c.html [accessed 31 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 1,300,000
Capital: Tallinn
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

A difficult economic climate has made it problematic for trade unions to protect employee rights, and high unemployment has acted as a deterrent to joining and establishing unions. Several violations have been reported against trade union officials. The main area of concern in the law is the ban on strikes for public servants.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

Fundamental trade union rights are guaranteed, although problems still exist. The trade union law, adopted in 2000, recognises the right to organise, and collective bargaining and collective dispute resolution are also provided for in law. However, all civil servants and employees of government agencies, other state bodies and local governments are denied the right to strike. The ILO, the Council of Europe and even the Estonian Chancellor of Justice (ombudsman) have criticised this situation. Despite initial promises, in 2008 the Ministry of Justice confirmed that the government planned to keep the strike ban for all civil servants under the new Public Service Act. Furthermore, for over 15 years, the government has failed to produce a list of "essential services" as stipulated by the Collective Labour Dispute Resolution Act.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: The effects of the economic crisis continued to be felt in Estonia in 2010. Unemployment continued to rise to 15.5% in the 3rd quarter of the year. The budget deficit came down to 1% ahead of the country's accession to the Euro zone on 1 January 2011. Much debate centred on employment rights with attention focused on the revised Employment Contracts Act, which included changes introduced unilaterally by the government without tripartite consultation.

Difficult to defend workers' rights: The Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions reports that unions often encounter general problems in defending employee rights. These often relate to the legal processes: establishing discrimination in employment tribunals is a new phenomenon and there is little experience in handling such cases. It remains relatively easy to dismiss trade union activists in the work place as there is no obligation under the Employment Contract Act (ECA) to reinstate a fired trade union representative if it is not reasonable once both parties' interests have been taken into account. Compensation is often reduced by courts or tribunals even though there is provision for it at a reasonable level in the ECA. Court procedures are slow and expensive, whilst claims for compensation in case of unlawful termination of an employment contract are subject to relatively high fees.

Shop steward made redundant without consultation: An EMAF (Estonian Metal Workers Trade Union Federation) shop steward, Mr Zeleznjakov, was made redundant by his employer, Stellabalt OÜ, without the requisite prior consultation with the trade union. Mr Zeleznjakov was reinstated at an employment tribunal with immediate effect. However, the employer provides work now to the exact letter of the employment contract, which means considerably reduced income. At the same time the employer has appealed against the decision of the tribunal and the case continues in court.

Long-serving shop steward sacked: EVR Cargo Ltd sacked a Locomotive Drivers trade union shop steward, Mr Sochka, for breach of trust and for breaking his employment obligations. Mr Sochka had worked for the same employer for 24 years. The employer did not take into account the opinion of the trade union nor did it give any reasons for not taking the opinion into account. In a subsequent tribunal the ruling went in favour of Mr Sochka and he was awarded compensation.

A case of discrimination not upheld: At the company Lasbet Tootmine Ltd, a shop steward with the service sector trade union ETKA, Mr Tolmatsov, worked in a shift where all workers were warned for not complying with rules regarding the use of personal protective equipment. The employment contracts of Mr Tolmatsov and another trade union activist were terminated. It was decided to apply to a tribunal as the employer had not complied with the principle of equal treatment. The employer had been notified of the establishment of a trade union organisation one week before the above infringement by the workers took place. It was felt that there was clear discrimination based on trade union membership as not all workers were treated equally. The tribunal found that the termination of the employment contract was unlawful and awarded compensation. However, it did not establish discrimination and that claim was not upheld; the shop steward did not appeal.

Shop steward in lengthy battle for reinstatement: The employment contract of Estonian Metal Workers Trade Union Federation shop steward, Mr Sõtnik, was terminated by his employer, Paljasaare Kalatööstus Ltd, for various offences. Mr Sõtnik applied to an employment tribunal and in 2009 the tribunal found in his favour, reinstated him and ordered the employer to pay the wages for the time he was on forced absence from work. To avoid re-employing Mr Sõtnik the employer made him redundant, a move that was later contested in an employment tribunal. The employer appealed against the tribunal decision and in October 2010 a court decided in favour of the shop steward. A further appeal has been made by the employer and a hearing is scheduled for May 2011.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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