At an extraordinary meeting of the Riigikogu on Monday, an amendment proposed by Reform to the Aliens Act was voted against. According to the party, the amendment would have helped alleviate the labor crisis created by not allowing third country workers into Estonia.
Reform's amendment would have extended work permits of workers based in Estonia as of March 17 until the end of the year. Additionally, the explanatory memorandum of the bill notes the goal of the proposed draft law is to keep workers already based in Estonia, in Estonia, which would fill spots that can not be filled by Estonian workforce, such as positions in agriculture.
The proposal to reject the bill on the first reading was made by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) party group. In total, 52 members voted to reject the bill and 42 voted against.
Jürgen Ligi (Reform), member of the Riigikogu, said while introducing the bill that over 3/4 of seasonal temporary workers are made up of Ukrainians who work in construction, warehousing and transport. Ligi said the percentage of migrant labor is smaller in agriculture but negative results can already be seen in terms of strawberry picking.
Ligi said: "We can clearly see how the government is teasing fields, teasing food and teasing its own citizens."
Andrei Korobeinik (Center), member of the Constitutional Committe, said the government's stances were represented in the committee by heads of the citizenship and migration policy department at the Ministry of the Interior, Ruth Annus and Annika Murov.
Korobeinik said: "The representatives found that necessary relaxations have already been made. That left members of government at disagreements with other members of the committee and with also the initiators of the bill."
On Monday morning, the coalition agreed third country nationals in Estonia will be permitted to enter or remain in the country for work or study.
During the emergency situation, the government closed Estonia's borders and refused to allow third country nationals to enter the country - even if they had a valid work permit. Workers who were in Estonia were not allowed to leave if they wanted to return. Permits were not extended unless workers were employed in the agricultural sector and only until July 31.
For several months farmers have complained they have no been able to find workers and that produce will rot, unpicked in the fields if the situation does not change. Strawberry farmers have been particularly affected as the harvest season started in June. Many seasonal workers come from Ukraine which currently has a higher rate of coronavirus infection than Estonia.
EKRE was particularly against allowing foreign workers back into the country and said farmers were underpaying workers, evading taxes and lying about not being able to find workers. As unemployment rose during the emergency situation farmers were told to employ Estonians instead. However, many Estonians do not want to do agricultural work and farmers have been unable to find enough workers.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste