An amendment to a draft bill, which would have required workers from third countries (non-European Union), who had lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis, to leave Estonia will allow agricultural workers to stay until July 31.
The coalition council made a proposal on April 7 to allow all foreign workers in Estonia whose work permits are set to expire during the coronavirus emergency situation to continue working in the agricultural sector.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said during Riigikogu Question Time on Wednesday workers who meet these criteria number around 600. "There are roughly 600 or a couple dozen more people who can help our agricultural sector, definitely now, during what is the busiest time," Ratas said when answering the question of opposition Reform Party MP Urmas Kruuse.
Kruuse said that according to the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce, agricultural producers need around 2,000 workers they cannot find on the local labor market. The Reform MP also pointed to an assessment by Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise according to which Estonia needs foreign workers to ensure food security.
"I understand when you say that 600 is not enough. While I do not understand it when people say that 600 is nothing. It is definitely more than what we had around 10 days or two weeks ago. Back then, all seasonal workers – talking about agriculture, forestry and fishing – were supposed to leave the country after their nine- or twelve-month work periods expire," Ratas said.
Ratas said companies will find additional workers from among thousands of Estonians who have lost their jobs recently.
"Over the past two or three weeks, around 2,000 Estonians have registered as unemployed. Of course, we cannot say everyone who loses their job in a different sector will go to work in agriculture. It might be logistically impossible or people might simply be living in urban environments. But I believe that quite a few people who are out of work today will turn to the agricultural sector to help out with seasonal work and feed their families that way, perhaps even stay there," the prime minister said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski