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Estonia

14 November 2018

Estonia: restored tripartite talks - first discussions on ways to reduce the gender pay gap

Tripartite talks between the Estonian government and the country’s social partners have been restored, with the government seeking to involve workers’ and employers’ representatives in discussions on a more regular basis. The negotiation culture, even in cases of disagreement, has improved, according to the main stakeholders. The reestablishment of the tripartite structures is believed to have been positively influenced by the EU.

In the spring of 2018, the government indicated in its European semester report to the European Commission that the plan was to engage social partners and other interest groups, as well as the public, more in the decision-making processes. Social partners' capacity to participate in policy making had, however, to be improved and there were calls for more formal tripartite consultation processes.

This led in May 2018 to the reestablishment of formal tripartite social dialogue meetings. In these meetings, the government and social partners agreed to discuss topics related to labour and social policy. As noted by industrial relations observers, the last time such a meeting took place was more than a decade ago in 2002. During the May meeting the participants, coming from trade union confederation EAKL, employers’ confederation ETTK and high-level government representatives, including the prime minister, discussed topics such as the development of workplace democracy and issues related to social tax and a foreign workforce. It was agreed that these meetings should take place several times a year, with the next meeting scheduled for September 2018.

The September 2018 meeting was again dedicated to several labour market related issues. Special attention was given to ways to reduce the gender pay gap. With a gender pay gap that continues to be one of the widest in the EU, the ambition is to take several steps to reduce this gap as it undermines the balanced development of society and economy. The government stated that, for instance, the Labour Inspectorate will start to exercise oversight over the observance of the principle of equal pay by employers of the public sector. Moreover, changes to the system of parental leave will provide people with the opportunity to participate in the labour market more flexibly than so far. The next tripartite meeting is planned for January 2019.

In an assessment of the country’s social dialogue practices (published at the end of 2016), union representatives said that social dialogue between the government and various umbrella trade union organisations had deteriorated during the economic crisis. After the economic recovery, social partners became more actively involved in social dialogue. Both EAKL and ETTK participated in several bodies, such as the supervisory board of Töötukassa (the Estonian Unemployment Fund), and the council of the Estonian Health Insurance Fund. The focus groups that participated in the assessment noted that the social dialogue has moved from contrasting dialogue to cooperation negotiations.

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