Opposition parties plan labor crisis Riigikogu sitting

Reform Party chair Kaja Kallas
Reform Party chair Kaja Kallas Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The two opposition parties in Estonia, Reform and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), plan to hold an off-schedule Riigikogu sitting to discuss ways to alleviate the labor crisis, a Reform spokesperson says. Reform has tabled a bill addressing the matter.

The Riigikogu finished for the summer break in mid-June, but parties can under the rules hold extraordinary sittings if proposed by 20 percent or more of MPs.

Reform has 34 MPs, SDE 10, along with Raimond Kaljulaid, who left the Center Party and sits with SDE's voting bloc. There are 101 seats at the chamber, meaning 21 or more MPs need to back the proposal to hold a sitting.

Reform says that government measures have not solved problems in the agricultural sector in particular, which is on the verge of meltdown, the party's leader says.

"Government measures have not alleviated the situation in the agricultural sector today and the first companies have reached the brink of a crisis due to labor shortages. This is why we are proposing an extraordinary debate in the parliament on the bill to alleviate the labor crisis, initiated by the Reform Party, which has already passed its first reading in the constitutional affairs committee."

Third-country workers' residence permits in the case of those already in Estonia when the COVID-19 crisis broke must be extended to year-end, Kallas says, otherwise agriculture – not only with seasonal crops but also, for instance, dairy farming, will be in the mire.

"Solutions come fast and as a result, we believe that the governing coalition will also support our discussion. At its last sitting, the constitutional committee maintained that if problems persist, an extraordinary meeting should be convened to discuss this law," Kallas said.

SDE chair Indrek Saar says the crisis – which emerged as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic made themselves known and also came at a time when the government passed legal amendments curtailing the ability of third-country, meaning primarily non-EU, nationals to stay in Estonia for work or study – was caused by the coalition itself.

"EKRE ministers have been hostile towards and threatened farmers and strawberry growers with the tax office (referring to statements made in late May by finance minister Martin Helme that strawberry farmers often engage in tax evasion – ed.), but the tax office itself cannot pick strawberries. If no decisive action is taken, the crisis will unfortunately spread to other agricultural sectors in the near future. The damage to agriculture will be great and affect the entire Estonian economy," Saar said.

Reform aims to have enough signatures to give the go-ahead to the sitting by Monday.

The two opposition parties + Raimond Kaljulaid between them, at 45 seats, do not have a majority in parliament.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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