The number of calls to the Labor Inspectorate's (Tööinspektsioon) counseling line increased by seven times the usual number at the end of March and based on the callers' questions it can be estimated there will be an increased number of wage disputes in the coming months.
At the end of March and start of April, on average, 300 people turned to the inspectorate a day. The agency's lawyers have had difficulty answering every phonecall but now there is more manpower and fewer callers.
The majority of callers' questions concern wage compensation from the unemployment fund or a reduction of wages, said Leonid Siniavski, a counselor at the Labor Inspectorate. He said some employers had not handled things in the right way.
In some cases, companies asked the inspectorate about deadlines, but in most cases, employees asked what the employer had done wrong, why they had done so, and what their rights were.
Downtime can lead to disputes
Another area which has raised many questions is downtime or work being suspended. As this is one of the criteria for reimbursing earnings, it has been raised by both companies and employees.
For example, companies have asked how to file a notice of work suspension, but employees were interested in what it meant to them and how much pay they would receive for that month.
Disputes will arise if the unemployment fund benefit and the €150 paid by the employer do not cover the employee's average salary.
At present, issues concerning lower wages have not yet reached the labor dispute committee, but Siniavski said that this is only a matter of time.
"After the unemployment insurance benefits have been paid, it will be clear how much workers were supposed to receive in those months and how much they actually received. The [Labor Disputes Board] application season will come, I expect, in May-June. again," Siniavski said, adding that it all depends on the general situation and how active the employees are.
You should ask the labor inspectorate before signing
ERR asked Siniavski in what cases should workers now turn to the labor inspectorate for help? He said employees should definitely call them before signing something, because it may be too late to do so after.
"It has happened before that an employee signs [a contact] and then asks innocently what did I do. It's a little late to ask. I always recommend: if you have any doubts about where you should sign, call first, and consult," Siniavski stressed.
He said it is not always necessary to give a signature, but it is enough to write on the paper "read" and the date and your signature.
"For example, in the case of redundancy benefits, the employer may give you with a notice of dismissal. Everything is as correct, but it has a date of two months earlier," Siniavski described.
"If an employee signs thoughtlessly, it's harder for him to prove later that he didn't sign it two months earlier, but on the same day. Things like that happen, and that's why I want to warn employees to think about where they're signing."
Editor: Helen Wright