Seamen's union says third country nationals at sea dodge work permit rules ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Cargo ship at sea. Picture is illustrative.
Cargo ship at sea. Picture is illustrative. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Estonian Seamen's Independent Union (EMSA) has said that the state is too lenient with the employment of foreign seamen since, unlike with the berry pickers and dairy workers, seamen from third countries do not have to apply for a working permit to enter Estonia.

The issuance of the right to stay has been front and center recently due to a labor shortage which has affected the agricultural sector, exacerbated by restrictions imposed at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The government recently relaxed restrictions, at least in some aspects, for third country nationals - referring primarily to non-EU/EEA citizens - but either way the regulations at sea allow for loopholes, the union says.

Head of the union, Jüri Lember, said: "We are talking about the citizens from the third countries to whom Estonia, for entirely incomprehensible reasons, has given a chance to enter the country without registration. Those seamen who haven't got their salary for the last month-and-a-half, are the problem. As registration wasn't required, salary slips, proof etc., have all been formed incompletely. So we already have a problem with some of the foreign workers on the ships."

Three cargo ships sailing under the Estonian flag mainly have Ukrainian and Russian citizens working on them. They don't have to apply for a working permit in Estonia, because they are staying on the cargoship under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The EMSA wants the same rules to apply seamen as other foreign workers.

Head of the Citizenship and Migration Policy Department of the Ministry of the Interior, Ruth Annus, said seamen coming from third countries don't have to apply for a permit, but they still have to be registered as employees.

"Because they are physically not on Estonian territory, but are only staying on the ship, it's not reasonable for them to apply for a working permit. They are not subject to the salary criterion because they are not required to register their short-term employment with the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA). They are on the ship under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," Annus said.

Last February, the government set multiple tax incentives for seamen sailing under the Estonian flag to bring more cargo ships to the Estonian register. The seamen's union did not support the amendment, believing it would bring even more third country citizens to Estonia.

"We are sailing ships under the Estonian flag that don't bring a significant profit to the state because the profit is way higher from the labor taxes than €5,000 or €10,000 tonnage tax per one ship a year. Above all, the bills should have started from that point so that our seamen can also get their jobs," Lember said.

Workers from these countries do not have to be paid the Estonian average salary as they do not need to apply for a work permit. 

Lember mentioned the example of a seaman who worked under the Estonian flag in March, whose salary was €676. Lember says that low wages on Estonian ships drive local seamen to work on the ships under other countries's flags.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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