Under pressure from the Language Inspectorate, Narva's nearly 200 taxi drivers must all improve their Estonian language proficiency to a B1, or threshold or intermediate, level by next summer.
Language Inspectorate Director Ilmar Tomusk told ERR's Russian-language online news portal that of all the taxi drivers working in Narva, only a few dozen currently speak Estonian at the required level.
Accorrding to Tomusk, taxi service providers Ida Takso, Ton Märts, Sõprade Takso, Narva Takso and Gold Takso all submitted language proficiency certificates for their employees.
"A total of 145 people work for these companies whose Estonian language skills did not meet the required level of proficiency," said Tomusk, adding that out of an additional 64 self-employed drivers, 62 did not meet the required level of proficiency.
According to the online news portal's information, taxi drivers thought that after the language proficiency requirement was removed from the Public Transport Act in the spring, they would not have to learn Estonian anymore, however according to Tomusk, this is not the case.
"The majority of taxi service-offering businesses reported that taxi drivers were either learning Estonian or waiting for free language classes," noted Tomusk. "With regards to self-employed drivers, they reported that they are involved in providing taxi services in such small volumes and do not have the money for learning a language, which is why they are likewise waiting for free courses."
Tomusk noted, however, that there were no plans to place sanctions on taxi drivers refusing to learn the language, although the inspectorate reserves the right to give taxi drivers warnings and fine taxi companies.
According to Integration and Migration Foundation Our People (MISA) and University of Tartu Narva College director Kristina Kallas, the drivers will not be receiving free Estonian language lessons this year.
"The money for free courses has already been distributed for this year," said Kallas. "6,000 people were given this opportunity who had been waiting for it for a long time already, however there are no taxi drivers among them."
She noted that as the Language Inspectorate is subject to the Ministry of Education and Research, the money for free courses should come from them specifically.
"Neither taxi drivers nor the Language Inspectorate have approached MISA regarding this issue," Kallas confirmed.
Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla