In a sign that IRL's Social Affairs Minister Margus Tsahkna has put his foot down, the government on Thursday decided to postpone the implementation of work ability reform, affecting up to 100,000 people, to July 1, 2016.
The objective of the reform, originally initiated by the Reform Party a few years ago and passed with the support of the Social Democrats in the Parliament last November, is to find employment for people with special needs. However, IRL, which was in the opposition at the time, criticized the reform in its current format. Tsahkna, previously an MP who became the Minister of Social Affairs when IRL joined the coalition government in March, was especially outspoken, supported by many organizations that represent people with special needs.
Currently, there are almost 100,000 people in Estonia who are registered as either incapable, or partly capable, to work. Only around one-third of them are employed. The coalition government said in last autumn that the reform's aim is to find jobs for many more.
According to the original plan, from 2016, Töötukassa (the Unemployment Insurance Fund) would have started 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.
But 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 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.
On Thursday it emerged that IRL's position has prevailed and the reform will be postponed after all. “Postponing the work ability reform is necessary in order to ensure smooth and firm implementation that helps people with special needs to find work,” the Government's Office said in a statement.
According to Tsahkna, this means that the services necessary for people with special needs will be first developed, and only after then it is possible to help them enter the labor market.
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas added that the extension of half a year helps to pay closer attention to details and ensure that everything would actually succeed. “What is important is that people with special needs have the opportunity to enter the labor market and actively participate in the society.”
Editor: S. Tambur