The Estonian parliament passed a reform that aims to find employment for the people with special needs. The Bill passed with 55 favorable votes out of the 101-seat chamber.
Currently, there are almost 100,000 people in Estonia who are registered as either incapable, or partly capable, to work. Around one-third of them are employed. The coalition government said that the reform's aim is to find jobs for many more.
According to the plan, from 2016, Töötukassa (the Unemployment Insurance Fund) will start to evaluate whether a person with a reduced ability to work will get assistance, and will also help to find suitable jobs and offer other services. Those services include rehabilitation, and life-improving medical or other devices.
The planned changes met heavy criticism from the opposition, and organizations representing people with disabilities, who claimed that Estonia is not yet ready for the changes, and the Parliament should postpone it.
Organizations representing those with special needs submitted a petition to the Parliament in October. Signed by 3,500 people, the petition claimed that the initiators of the reform do not have a proper understanding how to help disabled people to find jobs.
They also said the country lacks the necessary special transport facilities and other services that people with special needs would require in order to take up jobs outside their homes. The organizations also said that should the Parliament approve the new reform, they would appeal to President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who would need to sign any new law.
The government has said 180 million euros from the European Union funds will go towards the implementation of the new reform. But the opposition points out that the EU funding will stop after 2020, after which it is questionable whether the reform will save money for the country, or will prove costly, instead.
For the time being, the coalition partners at the government, the Reform Party and Social Democrats, were reportedly at odds how and when to implement the reform. Minister of Social Protection, Helmen Kütt, publicly expressed her support to the special needs groups who were protesting against the way work capacity reform was conducted.
Reform Party politicians maintain that the reform is meant to relieve some of the pressure on the pension system and encourage the employment of people with limited ability to work.