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Ukrainian war refugees and employment relations

  • Ukrainian citizens can work in Estonia on the basis of registration for short-term employment or temporary protection.
  • Temporary protection is an annual residence permit that gives Ukrainian citizens and their family members similar rights as those of Estonian resident
  • Employees who have been granted temporary protection must be paid at least the minimum wage.

Information materials for those arriving from Ukraine

The Labour Inspectorate has prepared a leaflet with the most important things to keep in mind about employment – employment contracts, working and rest time, wages and cancellation of the contract.

Factsheet for employers recruiting Ukrainian war refugees

Information about human trafficking.
Labour Inspectorate, Police and Border Guard Board, Social Insurance Board

European Commission

Working in Estonia – go home unharmed!

Say no to envelope wages!

FAQ for employees

There are several ways to start working in Estonia.

1. Temporary protection

Aliens must independently apply for temporary protection. Temporary protection is an annual residence permit that gives Ukrainian citizens and their family members similar rights as those of Estonian residents. After applying for temporary protection, war refugees have similar rights as Estonian residents, such as the right to study and work here and thereby obtain health insurance.

Temporary protection can be applied for in the service offices of the Police and Border Guard Board. To submit an application, it is recommended to book an appointment at https://broneering.politsei.ee/. The Police and Border Guard Board is also planning to set up mobile service points in the accommodation facilities housing war refugees from Ukraine. More information about this is available at the accommodation facilities.

It is recommended to fill in the application form in advance for all family members and have identity or other documents (e.g. your birth certificate) with you. Application forms are available at reception points, accommodations and service offices.

2. Short-term registration for employment

Employers must apply for a short-term registration for employment on behalf of aliens. Aliens who are staying in Estonia legally and temporarily and whose employment has been registered with the Police and Border Guard Board prior to starting work may work in Estonia for a short period of time. Short-term employment can be registered for up to 365 days in a 455-day period.

Employers can register for short-term employment themselves, through an authorised representative at the service offices of the Police and Border Guard Board, in the self-service or by post.

Aliens working on the basis of short-term registration are subject to rights and obligations established in the Aliens Act (e.g. the requirement of average salary in Estonia).

The Unemployment Insurance Fund launched an online environment where employers can post their available positions. People arrived from Ukraine or their liaisons in Estonia can contact employers and ask about employment opportunities. The online environment is also available in Russian and English.

The job offers of the Unemployment Insurance Fund are available HERE.

Pursuant to section 391of the Labour Market Services and Benefits Act, an undertaking engaged in job mediation shall not charge a fee for job mediation from a person wishing to find a job. Similarly, an undertaking engaged in job mediation shall not charge a fee from an employee for sending the employee for temporary agency work.

 

More on this topic: Job mediation

 

 

Choosing the right type of contract is important as far as different rights, obligations and restrictions apply. For example, working under an employment contract guarantees employees annual holiday and wages at least in the amount of the minimum wage established in Estonia.

Working is possible under a number of contract types.

  • If the aim is to regulate the performance of a specific task (e.g. giving a lecture), it would be practical to enter into an authorisation agreement.
  • If the aim is to regulate the achievement of a specific result (e.g. repair of an object), it is expedient to enter into a contract for services.
  • If the aim is to regulate the process of achieving a result and it is desired to manage the activity (one person is subject to the management and control of another person), then this is an employment relationship and an employment contract should be entered into.

Employment contracts are concluded in writing and must be signed by hand or digitally. An employment contract is concluded before actually commencing work, no later than on the day of commencing work. Employment contracts must be drawn up in two copies, one to be retained by the employee and the other by the employer.

Failure to conclude the employment contract in writing does not mean the contract is void, but it may make it more difficult to prove agreements later on. For example, a dispute may arise between the parties at a later point in time regarding the wages, job duties and other terms.

Employers are obliged to register employment in the employment register. Employees can verify it in the e-service portal of the Tax and Customs Board (https://maasikas.emta.ee). For this, you need to log into the portal with your ID card, Mobile-ID or Smart-ID. Next, click on ‘Registers and inquiries’ and then select ‘My employments’. There you can see whether your employer has registered your employment and selected the correct employment type.

One of the most important conditions of an employment contract is the wages. The amount of remuneration and the method of calculating it are indicated in the employment contract. The remuneration indicated in the employment contract is gross wages. Taxes have been deducted from the amount that is transferred to the employee’s bank account (net wages). Employers are obliged to pay wages to employees at least once per month and on the agreed date, i.e. pay day must be a fixed date.

Recipients of temporary protection have the right to work in Estonia under the same conditions as Estonian citizens. If employees work full time, their wages cannot be lower than the minimum wage. As of 1 January 2022, the minimum hourly wage is 3.86 euros and the monthly minimum wage for full-time employment 654 euros (gross).

If an alien works in Estonia on the basis of a short-term registration, they must be paid wages pursuant to the Aliens Act. In such a case, the employer is obliged to pay the alien a wage at least equal to the amount of the annual average gross salary in Estonia. The average gross salary in Estonia is 1548 euros per month.

Employees can verify it in the e-service portal of the Tax and Customs Board (https://maasikas.emta.ee). For this, you need to log into the portal with your ID card, Mobile-ID or Smart-ID. Next, click on ‘Registers and inquiries’ and then select ‘My income’ or ‘Data on social tax’. There you can see your income and tax liabilities.

The employee’s working time must be agreed in the employment contract. The parties may agree to apply full-time or part-time work. Full-time work is 40 hours per week, or eight hours per day over a seven-day period.

The parties can also agree on summarised working time. Summarised working time means that working hours may be distributed differently in the calculation period. For example, in the course of one month an employee may work six hours a day in one week and ten hours a day in another week. In the case of summarised working time, the calculation period can be up to four months. The end of the calculation period also reveals the employee’s overtime and under-hours.

If the working time exceeds the agreed working time, it is usually overtime. Overtime must be compensated with paid time off or at a rate of 1.5 times the wages. Overtime work is based on an agreement of the parties.

Employees must be given 11 consecutive hours of rest during a 24-hour period. This means that employees can work a maximum of 13 hours with overtime in one shift.

Employees must be given a rest break during the working day for meals and rest. After working for six hours, the employee has the right to rest for at least 30 minutes, but the employer may give the employee a 30-minute break earlier. This break is within the working day and is generally not included in working time. The employee can use this break at their own discretion and, if necessary, leave the workplace. Breaks during the working day are not considered working time, unless due to the nature of the work it is impossible to give a break and the employer gives an employee the opportunity to rest and dine during working time.

The employee must rest for at least 48 consecutive hours a week. In the case of summarised working time, the employee must be able to rest for at least 36 consecutive hours a week. The law requires that the weekly rest period be Saturday and Sunday, but the employee and the employer may agree otherwise. In the case of summarised working time, the weekly rest period is regulated by the schedule and may be on different days, as employees can also work on Saturdays and Sundays.

Employment contracts can be cancelled by mutual agreement, in the event of extraordinary circumstances without advance notice or ordinarily at the employee’s own request, following the advance notice terms. At the end of the employment relationship, employers must always pay wages for the time worked, i.e. the final settlement, which consists of the wages earned and compensation for unused leave.

Employees may cancel an employment contract entered into for an unspecified term by giving at least 15 calendar days’ notice during the probationary period and at least 30 calendar days’ notice after the probationary period.

Employees may cancel an employment contract extraordinarily with good reason, in particular, if taking into account all circumstances and mutual interests, continuing the contract cannot be reasonably demanded. Both fixed-term contracts and contracts entered into for an unspecified time can be cancelled extraordinarily. Employees are not obliged to give employers advance notice of extraordinary cancellation if, considering all circumstances and mutual interests, it cannot be reasonably demanded that the performance of the contract be continued until the expiry of the agreed term or the term for advance notice.

In order to cancel an employment contract, a declaration of cancellation must be submitted to the other party, which must be in a format which can be reproduced in writing, e.g. by e-mail, letter or a text message. A declaration of cancellation is a unilateral declaration of intent which does not require the other party’s consent or signature. The declaration of cancellation becomes valid when it is received by the other party.

Oral cancellation is void. If an employee (or an employer) orally cancels the employment contract, it means that the employment relationship has not ended. It is also not possible to cancel an employment contract simply by making an entry in the Employment Register.

Employment contracts can be cancelled orally only by mutual agreement between the parties, but it is recommended to conclude agreements in writing in order to avoid misunderstandings or disputes which can arise later.

The Language Act presupposes that the employment contract is concluded in Estonian, but the contract may be in another language if the parties agree to it.

At the same time, it is important that both parties of the employment relationship have the same understanding of the content of the employment contract and safety documents. It is important for the employee to receive the necessary information in order to do the job and that the information is clear and understandable.

Written translation should be preferred to interpretation because, in the case of interpretation, a dispute may arise about whether all the information was translated or not.

As the language of administration in the Republic of Estonia is Estonian, employment contracts must also be available in Estonian, in case it is necessary to submit them to a labour inspector for inspection. During the supervision proceedings, the labour inspector has the right to ask for the documents in Estonian.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude employment contracts and other work-related documents in both languages (e.g. Estonian – Ukrainian or Estonian – Russian or in another language spoken by the employee).

FAQ for employers: work relations

Temporary protection is an annual residence permit that gives Ukrainian citizens and their family members similar rights as those of Estonian residents. Aliens must independently apply for temporary protection.

If a refugee has been granted temporary protection and a residence permit, they are subject to the same conditions as local employees. Various agreements can be entered into for employment (e.g. contracts based on the Law of Obligations Act, such as authorisation agreements or contracts for services), but an employment contract provides the best protection, and the terms of the employment contract are the same as for local residents. In this case, there is no requirement of average salary in Estonia. Like a local employee, they must be paid at least the minimum wage, which in 2022 is 3.86 euros per hour or 654 euros per month (gross). In addition, they are subject to the Employment Contracts Act, along with all other relevant requirements – the same as local employees.

A person who has received temporary protection from the Police and Border Guard Board may commence employment immediately after receiving protection. The procedure for filing an application for temporary protection and for a residence permit is an expedited procedure. As a rule, the decision as to whether or not to grant protection is made immediately, after which, if granted, the decision on the granting of a residence permit is issued to the applicant together with a personal identification code. That means that if a war refugee has received a decision on temporary protection, then on the basis of this decision he may commence employment. The issuance of a residence permit card may take up to 30 days, but this does not prevent the person from being hired. For more information, see: https://www.politsei.ee/et/juhend/info-seoses-ukraina-sojaga/ajutine-kaitse-ukraina-kodanikele-ja-nende-pereliikmetele

For example, if a decision on temporary protection was made on 23.03, then on the basis of this decision it is possible to commence employment, however, the process of obtaining a residence permit card may take up to 30 days (in this case, the residence permit card will be issued before 23.04).

The personal identification code is a code that simplifies the administration between a person and various state institutions. Obtaining a personal identification code does not change a person’s rights. If a person has a personal identification code but no right for temporary protection, they may only be employed as a short-term employee.

Aliens who are staying in Estonia legally and temporarily and whose employment has been registered with the Police and Border Guard Board prior to starting work may work in Estonia for a short period of time. Short-term employment can be registered for up to 365 days in a 455-day period.

Employers can register for short-term employment themselves, through an authorised representative at the service offices of the Police and Border Guard Board, in the self-service or by post.

Aliens working on the basis of short-term registration are subject to rights and obligations established in the Aliens Act (e.g. the requirement of average salary in Estonia).

 

A citizen of Ukraine who has a legal basis for temporary stay in Estonia and whose short-term employment was registered with the Police and Border Guard Board as of 24 February 2022 and whose authorised period for employment in Estonia has expired or will expire at the latest on 31 May 2022 may take up and remain in short-term employment in Estonia until 31 May 2022. The employer does not have to register the continuation of employment with the Police and Border Guard Board.

In addition, it is possible to register employees as seasonal workers. Seasonal work is a sub-type of short-term employment. Seasonal work is work in a seasonal area of activity such as crop and livestock farming, hunting and its related service sectors, fishing and aquaculture, forestry and logging, accommodation, food and beverage service activities, food production, and non-alcoholic beverage production. Seasonal workers are registered with the Police and Border Guard Board by the employer. It is permitted to perform up to 270 days of seasonal work per year. For seasonal work, the employer is required to pay the employee at least the minimum wage. As of 1 January 2023, the minimum hourly wage is 4.30 euros and the monthly minimum wage for full-time employment 725 euros (gross).

Ukrainian citizens can work in Estonia on the basis of a temporary residence permit, temporary protection, short-term working, or the specification in sections 30914 and 30915 of the Aliens Act. If employee works on the basis of the specification in sections 30914 and 30915 of the Aliens Act, the employer is required to pay remuneration which is at least equal to the average annual gross monthly salary of Estonia of the area of activity in which employment is commenced and the coefficient of 0.8 multiplied. The average annual gross monthly salary of the area of activity can be found here.

If a war refugee has just arrived in Estonia, they must have a basis to work. This can be based on temporary protection (see clause 1) or registration for short-term employment (see clause 2). The personal identification code can be obtained from a local government or together with an application for temporary protection. The existence of a personal identification code does not entitle to work.

The Unemployment Insurance Fund launched an online environment where employers can post their available positions. People arrived from Ukraine or their liaisons in Estonia can contact employers and ask about employment opportunities. The online environment is also available in Russian and English.

If you want to offer employment to people arrived from Ukraine, you can do so HERE.

Employers may only cancel an employment contract in extraordinary situations. In extraordinary situations, employment contracts may be cancelled only with good reason, by adhering to the terms for advance notice prescribed in the legislation.

Employers may cancel an employment contract in an extraordinary situation due to a reason arising from the employee (§ 88 (1) of the Employment Contracts Act) or for economic reasons (lay-offs) (§ 89 (1) of the Employment Contracts Act). Wanting to employ an employee who can be paid less is not a good reason and such cancellation may be void. Employees have 30 calendar days from the date on which they received the declaration of cancellation to petition the labour dispute committee to declare the declaration of cancellation invalid, and request compensation in the amount of three months’ average wages.

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and to hold political opinions. Employers are not allowed to treat their employees any less favourably for doing this. These are universal fundamental rights. At the same time, there are limits to freedom of expression. The line is drawn at anything which is a threat to safety, security, public order, or which conflicts with the rights and obligations of others.

The justification of anything listed and punishable under the Penal Code is not permissible. War propaganda is prohibited by the Penal Code.

Companies may impose their values on a broader scale than relevant for the actions prohibited by the Penal Code. A company may set out in their work organisation rules such values that are important to the company, and prohibit the violation of those values. Nevertheless, any restrictions established in a company’s work organisation rules must be within the limits of the Constitution.

For example, a company may establish the rule that the expression of their employees’ views in public spaces must be in line with the company’s values. In such a case, the employees must refrain from harming the reputation of the employer. Employees may be prohibited from publishing, posting, commenting on, sharing, or otherwise referring to or distributing material (e.g., text, photos, videos) that conflicts with the company’s values.

More information on this topic can be found on the website of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner HERE and HERE.

 

FAQ for employers: working environment

What should I consider when employing war refugees from Ukraine?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act applies to all employees equally, i.e. the general principle is that the work and working environment must be safe and not harmful for their health. But when employing people who are from another country and in a vulnerable position, rules have to be implemented in a manner which actually works.

Contact details of the working environment representative and working environment specialist

It is important that employees know who to approach with questions or issues. You need to think about whether both the working environment specialist and working environment representative speak the language the employee usually uses. If possible, find someone in your working environment who speaks both languages and is willing to interpret if the need arises.  

 

Risk assessment and safety instructions

During instruction, employees are given safety instructions on the work and work equipment which also highlight ergonomically correct working positions and techniques. Instructions also include the results of the risk assessment, including the working environment risk factors, health risks and measures taken to prevent health damage. 

More on this topic: Instruction and training, see also Safety instructions.

 

Language of instruction

The purpose of instruction is to give information to employees on how to work safely. If employees do not know how to work safely, it will lead to health damage. Translating the instructions orally helps them understand it better, but it has its own risks. Translating only the important parts means some of them will remain unclear for the employee. Something seeming unimportant at one moment could be very important in another.

For the instruction to be relevant and for the employer to be able to later prove that instruction was carried out, it is recommended to translate the instructions into a language that the employer (representative) and employee use to communicate with each other. In doing so, you avoid accidentally leaving out a part of the instructions and the employee getting injured because of it.

 

Use of personal protective equipment

Training in the use of personal protective equipment is vital for all employees, but it needs special attention in situations where employees may be used to using different personal protective equipment. 

More on this topic: Use of personal protective equipment

 

Safety signs

For safety signs to fulfil their purpose, employees have to know their meaning. Explaining their meaning is especially important for people who come from another cultural background, as some signs may be completely alien to them.

More on this topic: Safety signs.

 

Electrical safety requirements

Depending on the work, it may be sufficient to explain general electrical safety requirements, which are usually included in the safety instructions.

More on this topic: Electricity safety.

 

Behaviour in emergency situations

In addition to knowing how to work safely, employees have to be ready for something unexpected to take place. Employees have to know what to do in the case of physical harm, including the location of first aid equipment and the contact details of the provider of first aid, as well as the emergency number 112. Employees also have to know the location of emergency exits, escape routes and fire-extinguishing appliances.

 

Instructions for preventing contamination of the environment

If the company has established requirements for environmental safety, these have to be explained as well. In the case of a small cafe, for example, it may not be necessary to establish them at all.

After instruction, the employee must receive training. Organisation of training is necessary to acquire safe working practices, taking into account, among other things, the specific nature and hazards of the employee’s work.

In order for the training to be effective, it is necessary to think carefully about who should provide training to the new employee. It should be an employee whose safety behaviour is impeccable, otherwise the new employee will acquire the wrong working techniques and notions. The employee providing the training should have time to do this in addition to their work. In addition, it is important to make sure that the supervisor and new employee can communicate with each other, meaning that they speak the same language. The supervisor’s empathy and patience would also be useful in the current situation.

The duration of training is not regulated. The employer decides it based on the nature and risks of the work.

More on this topic: Tips for the supervisor.

Remember to register the instruction and training.

More on this topic: Registration of instruction and training.

As is the case with other employees, employers have to arrange a medical examination by an occupational health doctor for employees under temporary protection.

A medical examination must be carried out within four months of the start of employment. Periodic medical examination must be organised at the interval set by the occupational health doctor, but at least once every three years and, in the case of an employee who is a minor, at least once a year.

A medical examination must be arranged for employees whose health may be affected by the following working environment risk factors or nature of work:

  • noise
  • vibration
  • electromagnetic fields
  • artificial optical radiation
  • ionising radiation
  • dangerous chemicals and materials containing such chemicals, including carcinogens and mutagens
  • biological hazards
  • working with a monitor
  • manual handling of loads
  • work in a constant forced position, including in a sitting or standing position
  • other hazards or nature of the work

Prior to commencing work, a medical examination must be arranged for:

  • employees who are exposed to carcinogens and mutagens;
  • employees who are exposed to lead and its compounds;
  • employees who are exposed to asbestos dust;
  • night workers; and
  • employees who are exposed to biological hazards.

Employers must organise a medical examination for night workers regardless of the results of the risk assessment. A night worker is any employee who works at night for at least three hours of their daily working time or at least one third of their annual working time. In addition, a medical examination must be organised for employees who are exposed to lead and its compounds and asbestos dust, regardless of the risk assessment results.

The employer bears the costs of the medical examination. The medical examination is performed during working hours and employees are paid an average working day wage for that time.

More on this topic: Medical examination

 

Decision and proposals of an occupational health doctor

The decision of the occupational health doctor is mandatory for the employer. For example, if the occupational health doctor has made the following decision: cannot work in an environment with excessive noise; the employee must not manually handle loads exceeding 10 kg; cannot work with their hands raised, then the employer must comply with it. The employer will reorganise the work so that the employee does not have to perform work that is unsuitable for them, or if this is not possible, cancel the employment relationship. More on this topic: Cancellation of employment relationship for health reasons.

If the doctor decides that they recommend physiotherapy or neck and shoulder massage ten times twice a year, it is considered a recommendation for the employer, and the employer and employee decide together when these recommendations are followed and who bears the costs. However, the employee has to draw their own conclusions, think about their health and find a way to follow the doctor’s recommendations.

It is not usually necessary to amend the risk assessment when employing new people. The risk assessment may have to be amended if the employees are hired to do something that has never been done in the company. This means that if the employee starts performing work that has not been assessed in the risk assessment, i.e. the risks of the work are unknown, a risk assessment must be carried out.

The risk assessment is necessary in order to consider the risks of the work or working environment. Once the risks are known, an action plan can be drawn up on how to avoid or mitigate their impact. For example, getting protective earmuffs in the case of a noisy environment or working clothing for a cold environment.

Employers also have to think about how to introduce the risk assessment to employees. Employees have to be familiar with the risk assessment results, the working environment risk factors which affect employees as well as the measures implemented to avoid health risk and damage.

More on this topic: Risk assessment.

FAQ for volunteers

Volunteering has three primary characteristics:  

  1. the activity is voluntary, not obligatory or forced              
  2. 2. the volunteer does not receive financial or material gain, although it may be highly beneficial for them and they may receive gifts
  3. 3. the activity is not connected to the volunteer’s home or family and is done for the benefit of someone else or society in general

Therefore, volunteering means willingly providing your time, energy or skills, without receiving compensation. Volunteers help others or primarily work in the public interest and for the benefit of society. Helping your family members is not considered volunteering.

There is no law in Estonia which governs volunteering, and therefore the organisation of volunteer work may be somewhat different in various associations. For example, some of them enter into a contract with volunteers, while others do not.

When volunteering, it is useful to know about its good practices and follow the generally accepted ethical and moral standards. While helping others as a volunteer, you also need to ensure the health and safety of yourself as well as other volunteers. Additional information about volunteer work is available here.

Volunteering is very important in society. Improving someone’s day or helping them gives an abundance of positive emotions to the helper as well. 

Employers are not obliged to grant time off for volunteering.             
By mutual agreement, it is possible to use paid or unpaid leave, make changes in the schedule or organise work in any other way which allows the employee to help those in need.     
Many organisations have joined the Let’s Donate Time initiative (https://annetameaega.ee/) and give their employees one (or more) paid day off every year, so they could use it for charity.

People often overestimate how much time they have and eagerly take on voluntary commitments that they will not be able to meet later. You should therefore figure out how much free time your other activities actually leave for volunteering.           
It is important to also leave time for yourself, so you can recover and rest, and remain energetic and capable of doing your main work.            
As a volunteer, you have to be precise and honest about your availability and not give promises you cannot keep because even though the work is voluntary, others are counting on you to do what you promised. It is essential to be at the agreed place at the agreed time and complete the work by the agreed deadline.

No, employers cannot require their employees to do any other work than what is specified in the employment contract.  Employers’ instructions have to be related to a duty prescribed in the employment contract.

Volunteers provide their time and skills and they do not have to pay to volunteer. The good practice of volunteer work also recommends non-government organisations to cover the expenses directly related to volunteering. For example, it is common practice for organisations to compensate the volunteer’s transport costs and other direct costs incurred during volunteering (e.g. materials necessary for workshops). Unfortunately, not all associations will always have enough resources to bear the costs and volunteers should definitely discuss the situation with the organisation and, if necessary, put it in writing.

Employers cannot impose restrictions on what their employees do with their time off. 
However, if volunteering starts to interfere with their main work, e.g. the employee is tired, which leads to mistakes or the decrease in productivity, the employer can warn them and highlight the need to improve their performance. The employee failing to improve their performance in spite of the warning may lead to the cancellation of their employment relationship.

Everything relating to a person and their everyday life is considered personal data, such as their name, address, health and financial situation. Disclosure of personal data is an individual right and is first and foremost based on the willingness to do so. In the Republic of Estonia, the right to privacy is ensured by the constitution, more specifically by the Personal Data Protection Act. Both you as a volunteer and the person in need of help have the right to privacy.

Activities which are purely charitable (e.g. helping those in need or acting for the benefit of society), not related to an entrepreneur’s primary activity or promoting their economic interests are not entered in the employment register. Persons performing volunteer work for foundations and non-profit organisations do not have to be registered in the employment register because, based on their nature, non-profit organisations and foundations do not have economic interests.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) does not apply to volunteer work. However, the organisers of such work should think about whether the plans can be carried out without harming anyone’s health. For example, when lifting loads, they should not expect volunteers to move loads that require several people or special equipment, and think about whether the loads are suitable for manual lifting or whether they should use a cart or something similar. The organiser should also think about the availability of first aid equipment (it is unreasonable to expect volunteers to have their own).
In accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, health damage caused by volunteer work is not considered an occupational accident and, pursuant to clause 14 (5) 6) of the same act, the injured volunteer is not entitled to compensation.     
Volunteers have to take care of themselves and use appropriate, safe working techniques and equipment, as well as make sure that it is safe to work.

Possibilities for war refugees to enter the labour market based on their qualifications

In relation to the need to integrate a large number of Ukrainians who have arrived in Estonia into our labour market, situations may occur in which awarders of profession are asked for information on the conditions for working in Estonia.

Their inclusion in the labour market at the highest possible level, taking into account the qualifications and skills of those entering the market is in the interests of both parties (both Estonian society and the arrived war refugees). It is also important to make taking up work as smooth and quick as possible.

The prerequisite of fulfilling these objectives is to give people accurate and relevant information about the ways of entering the labour market.

 Here are some key points.

Foreign citizens can work without a professional certificate in unregulated professions, i.e. professions for which the law does not prescribe qualification requirements or require a professional certificate.

Therefore, access to unregulated professions (e.g. beauticians, hospital caregivers, chefs, gardeners, construction workers) in the labour market is free. Hiring is decided by employers and applying for a profession is not necessary.

There are several fields and occupations in Estonia that are restricted by requirements for specific qualifications and professional experience, i.e. regulated professions. These are medical professionals, teachers, responsible persons in construction (e.g. responsible construction managers, civil engineers), railway workers, etc.

If a person who has obtained qualifications abroad wishes to work in a regulated profession, they have to go through the process of recognition. Recognition means that a competent authority appointed by the state assesses the compliance of the qualification with domestic or international requirements for education and professional experience.

As a rule, the competent authority is either the ministry or agency of that specific field that has established the regulation and monitors its compliance. Awarders of profession are not competent authorities. A list of regulated professions and competent authorities is available here: https://harno.ee/en/development-and-qualifications/qualifications/professional-recognition 

Therefore, in regulated professions where a professional certificate is required by law as a prerequisite for employment, foreign citizens do not need to apply for a professional certificate – completing the recognition process is enough.

It is also possible to work in unregulated positions in regulated professions without undergoing the recognition process. For example, a legal adviser does not have to be entered into the list of the Bar Association, a civil engineer can work without being a person responsible, a speech therapist can work in a private practice, etc. It is also possible to enter into short-term agreements, in which case meeting the qualification requirements to the full extent is not obligatory.

Foreign citizens can also apply for a profession, if they wish to do so. This requires that all the prerequisites for applying for a profession have been met (including the language requirement) and that the awarder of the profession has the ability to assess documents issued abroad which prove the fulfilment of the prerequisites.

The Estonian ENIC/NARIC helps to assess foreign higher education qualifications and qualifications giving access to higher education (academic degrees, diplomas, certificates, etc.) and determine the correspondence of qualifications to the Estonian education system and makes recognition proposals.

Assessing the qualifications of undocumented refugees and the issuing of relevant documents is regulated in Estonia. The Estonian ENIC/NARIC, which issues a bilingual document ‘Educational Background Paper’ prepares them as a result of assessment.

More information with references to legislation and the application form is available on the website of the Education and Youth Board in Estonian and English:https://www.harno.ee/en/development-and-qualifications/qualifications/academic-recognition#recognition-of-refug.

Considering the lack of skilled workforce in nearly all fields and the difficult situation of war refugees, we ask people to fully support the employment of Ukrainians who have arrived in Estonia. In addition to sharing the formal conditions for entering into the labour market, please share other sectoral information which could contribute to getting them employed as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Recommendations for resolving conflicts in the working environment

Employers must treat all employees equally in all work-related situations. Employers cannot give preference to people enjoying temporary protection simply because they can save on labour costs when they are hired. Such an approach would directly discriminate against both those who lose their jobs in this situation and those who are recruited for the same work at significantly lower wages.

 

Employers must always have a reason and a legal basis for the extraordinary cancellation of the employment contract. The employment contract can only be cancelled in writing or in a format which can be reproduced in writing (e.g. an e-mail, a paper copy, an SMS).

 

Employees may always challenge their employer’s unilateral decision to cancel the employment contract in a labour dispute committee or in court. It is important to note that this can be done within 30 calendar days. The term is calculated from the date on which the declaration of cancellation was delivered to the employee, not from the date on which the employment contract ends.

 

Working in constant fear of losing one’s job is a psychosocial risk factor of the working environment. Employers must systematically and consciously work on mitigating this risk, including by providing clear messages and explanations about their decisions and future actions.

In this case, the employer acts in a discriminatory manner. Currently, an entrepreneur operating in Estonia, i.e. an employer, must act the other way around and provide their employees the confidence that they are one team, working to fulfil the goals of their organisation (regardless of their nationality or worldview). We condemn any crime of aggression and consider it fully unacceptable to encourage people to war or use force in any other way if doing so defies the universally recognised principles of international law.

Employees whose employer acts in the way described above may exceptionally cancel their employment contract due to a fundamental breach of the employer’s obligation pursuant to subsection 91 (2) of the Employment Contracts Act, but they must also justify their decision clearly.

More on these topics:

on the website of the Equal Treatment Commissioner https://volinik.ee/ and helpful materials for employers are available at https://www.toetav.ee/.

Employers should definitely talk to their employee in such a situation. Certain practices on how people communicate develop at work, including which language is used to understand each other. Employers should explain the situation, the principles of the team’s functioning and also their right to warn the employee of cancellation of their employment.

Employers may definitely not leave the final settlement unpaid because that is their legal obligation. If they refuse to pay, the employee who has left or their representatives in Estonia have the right and opportunity to petition the labour dispute committee or court with a claim for the final settlement.

Employers can have a discussion with employees about values, but they cannot prevent employees from expressing their views outside of work. Employers cannot label employees or allow other employees to do so.

Currently, an entrepreneur operating in Estonia, i.e. an employer, must act the other way around and provide their employees the confidence that they are one team, working to fulfil the goals of their organisation (regardless of their nationality or worldview). We condemn any crime of aggression and consider it fully unacceptable to encourage people to war or use force in any other way if doing so defies the universally recognised principles of international law.

Pursuant to the Penal Code, war propaganda and incitement to hatred are punishable offences, which, in accordance with clause 88 (1) 5) of the Employment Contracts Act gives employers the right to terminate the employment relationship due to loss of trust.

Equal treatment

An employer shall ensure the protection of employees against discrimination, follow the principle of equal treatment and promote equality in accordance with the Equal Treatment Act and Gender Equality Act.

Yes, they do. Employees have the right to request their employer for an explanation of the basis on which their wages are calculated and to receive other necessary information to decide whether they may be discriminated against based on gender compared to other employees doing the same or equal work.

In accordance with the Employment Contracts Act, employers are obliged, at the request of an employee, to provide the employee with information about the wages calculated and paid or payable to the employee, and provide other notices characterising the employee or the employment relationship.

(On the basis of § 5 (1) 5), § 28 (2) 12), § 29 of the Employment Contracts Act, § 6, § 7 of the Gender Equality Act and § 3, § 7 et seq. of the Equal Treatment Act.)

There is no definition for work of equal value or clear assessment criteria to compare various jobs at the level of the European Union or in Estonia. However, this issue has been analysed by the Court of Justice, for example in cases C‑624/19 (3 June 2021), also in the 26 June 2001 court judgment in Brunnhofer, C‑381/99, EU:C:2001:358, clause 42 and the judicial practice cited therein.

A labour dispute resolution body i.e. the labour dispute committee decides on a case-by-case basis whether the work compared can be considered the same or of equal value. For example, the same work may be overshadowed by differing job titles. Work of equal value may belong to different occupational groups, occupational families or function groups.

According to the existing judicial practice, two very different jobs require equal pay only if they are of equal value to a particular organisation.

No. Employees have to provide facts which their suspicion is based on and in comparison to which employee. The assessment of all the facts which may indicate direct or indirect discrimination is for the court and the labour dispute committee.

Yes, you can. After the termination of the employment relationship caused by the alleged violation of the principle of equal treatment, employees may defend their right to equal pay and request compensation within one year of learning about the violation.

See also: Equal treatment and https://volinik.ee/

No. The overall figure of a company, institution or organisation cannot be directly linked to discrimination. The complexity, responsibility and performance or various positions, as well as the similarity and equivalence of the jobs, but also, for example, the workload (including whether the employee works part time or full time) has to be taken into account.

If an employer wishes to prevent unequal treatment themselves and analyse the situation of their organisation, they have to establish clear criteria for the assessment and comparison of positions and the work.

 

No. National registers collect data based on the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO), which does not reflect the nature of specific jobs in a particular company, institution or organisation.

The registers of the Tax and Customs Board (the employment register) collect data about the number of hours worked, but these data do not take into account the employees’ qualifications, education, length of employment or the complexity of their work, responsibility or performance. It also excludes other work-related compensation and non-monetary benefits, which, in accordance with the European Union law, are included in the remuneration.

In order for employees to defend their right to receive, for the same work and work of equal value, equal pay in comparison to other employees, it is important that remuneration systems and the principles of remuneration be transparent, such as disclosing the wages of all positions.

Additional information and useful material for employers can be found on the website of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner at https://www.toetav.ee/ and https://volinik.ee/