Estonia

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, related regulations, and statutory instruments provide workers with the right to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government generally respected these rights. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and prohibits antiunion discrimination. Both employees and employers have the right to request that labor dispute committees, consisting of representatives of unions and employers, or the courts resolve individual labor disputes. The law prohibits discrimination against employees because of union membership and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Public-sector employees do not have the right to strike, but they can negotiate their salaries and working conditions directly with their employers.

The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were usually adequate to achieve compliance with the law. In most cases, violators incurred fines that were sufficient to deter violations. Criminal proceedings and civil claims were also available. The penalties employers had to pay were related primarily to workplace accidents and occupational illnesses. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays.

The government and most employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Parties freely engaged in collective bargaining, and there were no reports that the government or parties interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations.

The Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions alleged frequent violations of trade union rights in the private sector during the year. Confederation officials claimed antiunion behavior was widespread. They also reported that some enterprises advised workers against forming trade unions, threatening them with dismissal or a reduction in wages if they did, or promising benefits if they did not.

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. In 2017 courts convicted 14 individuals for trafficking-related crimes, and sentenced the traffickers to prison terms ranging from two to six years, with some conditional sentences. Penalties for human trafficking and forced-labor offenses range up to 15 years’ imprisonment. While penalties for violations were sufficient, their application in sentencing often failed to reflect the seriousness of the crime.

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. In most cases, the legal minimum age for employment is 18. A 2017 amendment to the law removed several restrictions on hiring minors and made it possible for companies to apply for support for minors’ salaries. Minors who have graduated from basic school may work full time. Fifteen- to 17-year-old children may work, depending on whether the child is still at school. Seven- to 12-year-old children may engage in light work in the areas of culture, art, sports, or advertising with the consent of the Labor Inspectorate. Minors may not perform hazardous work, such as handling explosive substances, working with wild animals, etc. The law limits the hours that children may work and prohibits overtime or night work. The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing these laws. The government effectively enforced laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The Labor Inspectorate monitored whether the conditions for child workers were appropriate.

The law prohibits discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The government generally enforced the law prohibiting discrimination in employment and occupation, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. If workers claimed discrimination and turned to the courts, and the Labor Inspectorate or gender equality commissioner and the appropriate institution found the suit justified, workers were indemnified by employers. With respect to employment or occupation, labor laws and regulations require employers to protect employees against discrimination, follow the principle of equal treatment, and promote equal treatment and gender equality. Nevertheless, discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with respect to age, gender, disability, ethnicity, and language (see section 6), and there were complaints to the gender and equal treatment commissioner, the legal chancellor, and the Labor Inspectorate.

Although women have the same rights as men under the law and are entitled to equal pay for equal work, employers did not always respect these rights. Despite having a higher average level of education than men, according to March Eurostat statistics, women’s average earnings were 25.2 percent lower than those of men for the same work. There continued to be female- and male-dominated professions. Women constituted one-third of managers.

Fewer than 25 percent of persons with disabilities had jobs. During the year the legal chancellor and the commissioner for gender equality and equal treatment received claims of discrimination based on disability. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and access to the workplace.

Russian speakers worked disproportionately in blue-collar industries and continued to experience higher unemployment than ethnic Estonians. Some noncitizen residents, particularly ethnic Russians, alleged that the language requirement resulted in job and salary discrimination. Roma reportedly faced discrimination in employment (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

The country had a national monthly minimum wage that was higher than the poverty income level. Authorities generally enforced minimum wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The standard workweek is 40 hours. The law requires a rest period of at least 11 hours in sequence for every 24-hour period. Reduced working time is required for minors and for employees who perform work that is underground, poses a health hazard, or is of an otherwise special nature. The law provides for paid annual holidays and requires overtime pay of not less than 150 percent of the employee’s hourly wage. The government effectively enforced these requirements. There is no prohibition against excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. Authorities generally enforced minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards in all sectors. The Labor Inspectorate, the Health Protection Inspectorate, and the Technical Inspectorate were responsible for enforcing these standards and made efforts to do so in both the formal and informal sectors. Violations of health and safety standards were more common in the construction and wood-processing industries. The Labor Inspectorate was adequate to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations included fines and were sufficient to deter violations. Men from Ukraine experienced labor exploitation, particularly in the construction sector, where “envelope wages” (nontaxed cash payments) were sometimes paid.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future