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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Estonia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Estonia, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
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 – 182

Violations of trade union rights in Estonia are frequent. There is still no right to strike in the public service, although different governments have been promising to change the situation for years. Trade unions managed to block a legislative reform that would have severely decreased their rights at the workplace.

Trade union rights in law

The trade union law, adopted in 2000, guarantees the right to organise.

Discrimination and personal data: Anti-union discrimination is prohibited both by the Employment Contract Act and the Trade Union Act. An amendment to the Income Tax Act, which came into force on 1 January 2003, however, obliges trade unions to provide a list of all members, including their personal identity codes, unless their members object to this declaration and thus forfeit the tax rebate on their union dues.

Collective bargaining: Collective bargaining and collective dispute resolution is provided for by law.

Strike-ban in the public sector: Public servants working at the State or municipal level are denied the right to strike. The ban applies to all employees, including support staff such as drivers and electricians. The government promised six years ago to lift the ban. At the end of 2005, the Ministry of Social Affairs officially submitted a legislative proposal to amend the situation, but this draft has never reached the Parliament.

Other workers have the right to strike, and retribution against strikers is prohibited.

Controversial workplace representation reform: 2006 was marked by a bitter confrontation between the trade unions and the Government on the subject of the new Workers' Representative Act (adopted in December). The Government used the EU directive on workers' information and consultation as a pretext to introduce a reform that would have been tantamount to banning trade union representatives from the workplace. However, the intervention of the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL, affiliated to the ITUC), with the help of the ILO and international solidarity support, ensured an acceptable outcome. Trade union shop stewards did not lose their workplace rights and facilities and will have to work together with the workers' representatives elected by the staff general assembly. On the other hand, trade unions in public service lost their right to be informed and consulted during organisational change. Time will tell whether the weak regulation of workers' representative election procedures will lead to a situation where these representatives will be dependent upon employers and/or used to undermine trade unions' position.

The new Act also introduced sanctions for companies that fail to involve trade unions in the information and consultation procedures. However, there is still no provision that would impose adequate sanctions on companies for other violations of trade union rights.

The 2005 Act on Workers' Involvement in Community-Scale Undertakings, Community-Scale Groups of Undertakings and European Companies regulates the European Works Councils and information and consultation rights in European companies. Workers' representatives for the companies mentioned in the Act have to be appointed by a workers' general assembly convened by the employer. Trade unions believe that the real purpose of the new law is to diminish their influence in multinationals and to enable employers to manipulate workers' representatives. Trade unions were not consulted prior to the adoption of the text.

Trade union rights in practice

Harassment: The Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL) reports that anti-union behaviour is rife in the private sector. In some enterprises, workers are advised against forming trade unions, threatened with dismissal or a reduction in wages, or promised benefits if they do not join unions. Sometimes so called "yellow unions" are formed. Although all such action is prohibited by law, the Labour Inspectorate does not pursue cases. Dismissed workers rarely seek reinstatement or compensation because of a reluctance to go to court.

Collective bargaining: Employers tend to be reluctant to engage in collective bargaining and delay the process. It is estimated that between 20 and 25 per cent of the workforce is covered by collective agreements. The pay levels of civil servants are negotiated centrally between the government and trade unions. After ignoring the trade unions' proposals for years, the government reached a preliminary agreement on pay increase in civil service with the EAKL in 2006.

Violations in 2006

Background: There were a number of industrial disputes throughout the year, notably in transport, education and culture, and healthcare, and confrontations with the government. In the meantime parliament ratified the ILO's Minimum Age Convention on 11 October, thus completing the ratification of the core ILO conventions.

Ministerial snub: The proposed workplace representation reforms led to a deterioration in relations between the trade unions and the government. On 11 April the Minister of Justice, Mr. Rein Lang, dismissed Estonian trade unions as a "fiction" in his speech before parliament. Although some opposition members of parliament demanded that Mr. Lang apologise, he did not do so.

Refusal to recognise a union: The Estonian subsidiary of the electronic manufacturing multinational Elcoteq has a history of conflict with its workers' union. In 2006 the company refused to enter into collective bargaining with a local branch of the Metalworkers' Federation under the pretext that the union's membership was too low. The union is the only workers' organisation at the company and national law does not stipulate any minimum membership requirements for collective bargaining purposes.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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