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

Violations of the right to strike and the right to bargain collectively are not uncommon. Labour inspectorates are not effective in addressing anti-union behaviour. 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 2009

Background: After several years of economic growth and extremely low unemployment, Estonia was badly hit by the economic crisis. Thousands lost their jobs, and reckless borrowing during the economic boom put many in desperate situations, including foreclosures. As the government shifted the enforcement of the new employment contract law, an unprecedented 1,800-strong national protest strike took place in June.

Collective bargaining difficult: It is estimated that between 20 and 25% of the workforce is covered by collective agreements. Both public and private employers tend to be reluctant to engage in collective bargaining and delay the process. The economic crisis made negotiations difficult, and even profitable companies demanded concessions or failed to honour agreements. For example, in May, shipping company Tallink stopped paying wage supplements provided for in the collective agreement, and only asked the trade union for new negotiations afterwards.

Strike-breaking tactics: Strikes are not very common, and employers do not hesitate to take measures to avert strikes or minimise their impact. Just before the general strike of 16 June, many companies abruptly changed work schedules so that trade union members would not be on duty on the day of the strike. Some employers also threatened workers with dismissal. Tallinna Autobussikoondis (a public transport company) intimidated trade union members, prevented union leaders from contacting workers and removed strike leaflets.

Weak enforcement: Law enforcement depends mostly on labour inspectorates, which rarely pursue cases of anti-union behaviour. A legal battle can be followed by a struggle to enforce the decision of a court or a labour dispute resolution committee. For example, when an unfairly dismissed shop steward was awarded reinstatement but was not allowed back to work, he had to contact the private bailiff, who demands a deposit of 50% of the monthly minimum wage.

Anti-union activities: 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. "Yellow unions" are sometimes formed.

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