Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 09:05 GMT

2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Estonia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Estonia, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 20 October 2017]
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

Public servants are still denied the right to strike. Labour inspectorates and courts are unwilling to address violations of trade union rights.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: The trade union law, adopted in 2000, guarantees the right to organise.

Anti-union discrimination is prohibited both by the Employment Contract Act and the Trade Union Act. However, the Income Tax Act 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.

Right to collective bargaining: Collective bargaining and collective dispute resolution are provided for by law.

No right to strike in the public sector: All civil servants and employees in government agencies as well as 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, and the government promised to lift the strike ban eight years ago.

In June, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) adopted a definitive report on the associated complaint of the ITUC-affiliated Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL). The CFA expects the government to act swiftly in making the necessary legislative changes so that the Collective Labour Dispute Resolution Act complies with the ILO standards. The official position is that any changes in the public servants' right to strike would only come with the new Public Service Act (PSA). The draft PSA narrows the definition of civil servants and treats most public sector workers as ordinary employees. However, in January, the Ministry of Justice had confirmed that the government coalition planned to keep the strike ban for all employees who remained civil servants under the new PSA.

The Collective Labour Dispute Resolution Act also requires that minimum services be maintained in "enterprises and agencies which satisfy the primary need of the population and the economy" (section 21(3) and (4)) and during strikes. However, due to the technical implications of this provision, the minimum service requirement is not applicable in practice.

Workplace representation: The Employees' Representatives Act (in force since 1 February) stipulates that trade union shop stewards must cooperate with the workers' representatives elected by the staff general assembly.

Private companies that fail to involve trade unions in the information and consultation procedures can be fined. Public service unions lost the right to information and consultation concerning organisational change when the 2007 Act came into force. 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 and violations in 2008

Background: Estonia has been hit hard by economic recession resulting in numerous collective redundancies. Trade unions protested against the plans to freeze wages, while many workers were pushed into accepting detrimental changes to their employment conditions. Dialogue between the government and trade unions remained problematic with government reluctant to involve trade unions or to stick to previous agreements.

Harassment: The 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. "Yellow unions" are sometimes formed.

Weak enforcement: The law prohibits anti-union behaviour, as well as failure to consult with trade unions in the event of organisational change. However, the labour inspectorate does not pursue cases.

Collective bargaining: Employers tend to be reluctant to engage in collective bargaining and delay the process. It is estimated that between 20 and 25% of the workforce is covered by collective agreements. The pay levels of civil servants are negotiated centrally between the government and trade unions. Some public employers avoid bargaining as well.

Trade Union Act unsuccessfully tested in court: Last year's Survey reported that external trade union representatives were denied access to Sillamae Thermoelectric Power Station (SEJ), in violation of the Trade Union Act. The trade union tried to sue the employer and see whether the court would order the company to stop this unlawful behaviour and award appropriate compensation. On 22 December, the Viru County Court rejected all the trade union's claims. The matter was appealed to the Tartu Circuit Court, but no decision had been reached by the end of the year.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld