Farmers taking Ukrainian worker deportation case to court

Nopri dairy farm, one of the concerns taking the deportation of its Ukrainian workers to court.
Nopri dairy farm, one of the concerns taking the deportation of its Ukrainian workers to court. Source: ERR

A group of Estonian farmers and other rural businesses is taking the deportation of Ukrainian workers to court, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Wednesday evening. The Ukrainian nationals had been charged with violating quarantining rules after arriving in Estonia earlier in summer.

The prosecutor's office has rejected requests from three concerns to withdraw the decision, which would see the workers forced to leave Estonia by midnight Friday – although there are currently no direct flight links operating between Tallinn Airport and any Ukrainian city.

At the end of last month, the Health Board (Terviseamet) said it had found 46 instances of quarantining violations among agricultural workers. The individuals' employers have said that the workers were simply preparing their accommodation quarters and not engaged in "work" in the sense the authorities meant, and had not violated quarantine – set at 14 days for countries with a reported COVID-19 rate of over 16 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The Estonian agricultural sector relies heavily on seasonal labor during harvest time. This was hampered by the pandemic and its ensuing travel restrictions. In addition, the interior ministry tightened up the laws governing migration, earlier in the summer, though this bill has yet to pass into law.

The entrepreneurs taking the case to court are all based in South Estonia: Nopri Talumeierei - a dairy farm - Juhani puukool and Hobulased, along with MTÜ Loreta, which makes wooden buildings.

The group however, only has the moral backing of the Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (Eesti põllumajandus-kaubanduskoda), who will not represent them in court, although it has criticized the authorities for arbitrariness.

"The saddest thing about this tale is that these demands have been communicated to businesses, and I do not think that any of them have maliciously abused them. I am sad that such a very particular spot check has been made on the employees in question, and it could be said that there has essentially been some inconsistency," Roomet Sõrmus, head of the chamber, told AK.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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