After months of discussions, employers, employees and the Ministry of Social Affairs are close to agreeing on how to organize future sick pay compensation. It is hoped an agreement can be reached which would see sick pay paid from the second day of leave.
The existing system sees no mandatory sick pay from employers for the first three days, who take this on from days four till eight, with the state taking up the baton via the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa) from day nine.
However, since the authorities are urging people with even the mildest potential coronavirus symptoms to stay home to avoid passing the virus on, if they have it, the existing regulation meant people going out-of-pocket if they follow the rule and then did not develop the virus or test positive.
The issue was discussed at a meeting on Thursday and the government has reached an agreement.
"There is a consensus within society, and Isamaa supports this," Minister of Culture Tõnis Lukas said.
Similarly, interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) said that while there are some risks with the change, his party has no strong objections to it. Those risks would likely include abuse of the system if people "throw a sickie" for one day.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) stressed this aspect of the change, adding that it was a temporary solution "It is is our duty to take this kind of preemptive step here, and we will try to achieve that," Ratas said, adding the government is to discuss the issue further.
Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) said a balance should be struck in ensuring the new system works fairly while minimizing potential abuse. "I very much hope that we will reach agreement on this," he said.
But while politicians have reached a consensus on the issue, employers have more questions.
Head of the Estonian Employers' Confederation Arto Aas said that in principle he is in favor of Kiik's proposal. But before deciding, employers want clarity on how much the change will cost them and for how long the new regulations will last.
Kiik said, by their calculations, it could save up to €4 million for employers and ideally would be in place for two years.
Peep Peterson, leader of the Estonian Trade Union Confederation, added that there are already examples of companies which voluntarily compensate for the second and third days of illness.
Their experience has shown that costs do not increase significantly, he said. At the same time, he acknowledged that there is no clear forecast for the future and opinions differ.
The third concern from employers is about the Estonian Health Insurance Fund's budget. It is estimated the change would cost the state approximately €15 million a year.
Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) said the question of where to find €15 million has been the biggest obstacle. All the more so as the draft budget is now in the hands of the Riigikogu.
Aas reiterated that there is no real agreement yet. Employers want to meet with the Ministry of Social Affairs next week and will only make a decision after that.
Kiik said that the views of employers are being taken into account as much as possible, but today he asked the members of the government for their agreement in principle.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright