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Reform probes government on labor, state of PPE

Reform leader Kaja Kallas.
Reform leader Kaja Kallas. Source: ERR

Reform Party chair has written to the coalition government asking for its opinion as a matter of urgency on a foreign labor bill proposed by her party, which is in opposition.

Kallas requested the coalition urgently make clear its stance on the bill, which would amend the Aliens Act and which the Reform leader says would help alleviate a labor crisis.

Clarification on the government's position would ease the way for Riigikogu discussion on the bill, she said.

"This is an extremely time-critical bill, whose objective is to retain the workforce which is in Estonia already, and which fills the gaps in the labor market that cannot be resolved using the Estonian workforce alone," Kallas wote, according to BNS.

The Riigikogu's constitutional committee has pointed out that the government's opinion is necessary for it to be possible to handle the bill in an expedited manner, she added.

Kallas noted that companies which are dependent on foreign labor in the agricultural sector, for instance, have no time left and a genuine crisis is arising for them that will cause irreparable damage to many businesses.

Immigration laws tightened in face of potential labor shortage

Foreign labor in construction and agriculture, and particularly of Ukrainian origin, had been a much-debated topic even before the pandemic broke. As summer draws near, concerns about labor shortages in the agricultural sector had led rural affairs minister Arvo Aller (EKRE) to propose older schoolchildren and students head for the fields towards the end of summer, a move somewhat reminiscent of Soviet-era agricultural practices.

At the same time the concerns on labor shortage heightened, the coalition passed legislation which curtails the scope in which third country (non-EU) nationals can stay in the country, ostensibly in response to the pandemic.

This included the limit of 12 months' stay out of 15 months (or 9 months out of 12 in the case of seasonal work) and registration with the Police and Border Guard Board for foreign labor.

A period of grace has been granted to the end of July, for agricultural workers hired in Estonia before March 17.

Reforms's questions for government on PPE efficacy, supply

Reform MPs also on Wednesday requested clarification, this time from Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) on the circumstances of the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic, BNS reports.

The request came in the form of an interpellation, the second time it had been filed after initially being rejected by the Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas (EKRE), on the grounds that it was not relevant to the fulfillment of legislative acts for which Aab has responsibility.

MP Mart Võrklaev (Reform). Source: Private collection.

Reform MP Mart Võrklaev, who handed in the query, said that should the interpellation not reach Aab it would raise questions on whether the coalition has something to hide with regard to PPE procurement.

Details in the query include a request for clarification on the volume, quality and safe arrival of PPE equipment in Estonia.

"It is not clear what or how much the state has procured and whether or not the PPE acquired was of high quality - that means there is no information about any certificates or personal protective equipment tests," Võrklaev said, according to BNS.

Some local authorities had received out of date or defective PPE, Võrklaev noted. Preparedness for a potential second wave of COVID-19 was also relevant, Võrklaev and other Reform MPs noted, according to BNS.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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