The Minister of Agriculture, Ivari Padar, is backing a plea by farmers for looser terms for employing foreign seasonal workers, and has asked the Ministry of the Interior to reconsider their current position on the matter.
An umbrella organization of Estonian gardeners and farmers recently sent the Ministry of Agriculture a letter, asking for legal changes that would allow farmers to alleviate the labor shortage by employing foreigners in less strict conditions.
The farmers currently have to pay foreign workers 1,24 times the Estonian average wage, or around 1,200 euros gross per month. The farmers say that the actual average wage in the agriculture sector is much lower than that and they struggle to find locals willing to take on the seasonal jobs. The government's tough immigration policy, however, makes it unaffordable to hire foreign workers on long-term contracts.
The ministry has now discussed the issue and decided to forward the farmers' request to the Ministry of the Interior, in whose jurisdiction the immigration policy lies.
"We agree with Eesti Aiandusliit (the garderners and farmers association) that the development of the agriculture sector is hindered by problems with labor," said Illar Lemetti, Deputy Secretary General for Agricultural and Rural Life Policies, adding that the situation is complicated. Bringing in more foreign workers may costs jobs to locals, although it is increasingly clear that farms actually struggle to find workers for high season because not enough people want to work in the agriculture sector.
"Estonians are no longer willing to do such a hard job for so little pay," said Triinu Paumere, board member of Mulgi Viljad, a horticultural company from Viljandi county.
She added that Ukraine and Romania are the two most likely source countries of the work force that the sector currently lacks.
The Minister of the Interior Hanno Pevkur is on holiday and is yet to take a clear stance on the matter.