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Employers, unions, ministry discuss reinstating sick pay from day one

A three-way meeting between the Confederation of Trade Unions (Ametiühingute keskliit), the Confederation of Employers and (Tööandjate keskliit) the Ministry of Social Affairs Tuesday briefly raised the issue of reinstating paid sick pay from day one, rather than after day three, of an employee's illness.

However, nothing concrete was decided, ERR's online Estonian news reports.

"The proposal is really fresh," said Arto Aas, chief executive of the Confederation of Employers, adding that he did not even know who raised the issue and whether the proposal was to be on a temporary or permanent basis.

Paid sick leave from day one was introduced during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in spring, as a way of preventing employees who had contracted the virus from going to work and potentially spreading it further.

Arto Aas said that the move led to a large increase in employee sick leave; employers cannot in practice check whether those taking sick leave are genuinely ill, he said.

The standard practice of sick pay – where an employee is remunerated by the state rather than their employer – kicking in after three days is aimed at preventing a minority of individuals from abusing the system by "pulling a sickie".

The flip side of the argument is that since sick pay does not apply to the first three days of sickness, many employees can be out-of-pocket in the case of an illness that lasts a few days, if there employer does not cover the initial period.

While employees still require a sick note from a doctor in order to obtain sick pay, Aas claimed that under the strain of work, costs and bureaucracy, doctors tended to write these out very easily, rather than pulling up medical records or entering other procedures.

The government itself has not addressed the issue head on yet; Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) told ERR that there had been no discussion at cabinet level, adding that this was a budgetary issue, which in any case would be discussed through September as the government prepares its state budget bill for the following year.

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) however had said that the matter needed looking at, and he had prepared to put it on the agenda at the next regular Thursday cabinet meeting.

Kiik said the unions wanted employers to foot the bill from day two, with the state, via the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa) taking over from day five or six.

At present the issue of potentially COVID-19-infected workers not staying at home is still present; while the government urges those even with the slightest symptoms to remain home, since they are not financially compensated for this, in many cases people will still soldier on so as not to lose income.

Whether sick pay from day one would be reintroduced also depends on viral figures themselves; the Health Insurance Fund told ERR that there is no trend for growth at the moment, despite recent outbreaks in Tartu and Ida-Viru counties.

Arto Aas of the employer's confederation said that personal responsibility would be key both in terms of staying home when sick and not misusing the system when not sick.

Questions also remain whether the measure, if put in place, would apply to cases of communicable illnesses other than COVID-19, Tanel Kiik said, as well as exactly when sick pay becomes the state's responsibility, and/or gets transferred back to the employer if an illness persists.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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