Ministry and child welfare union battle over minors' employment regulations

Student summer camp in Imavere.
Student summer camp in Imavere. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Estonian Union for Child Welfare have not found common ground over a ministry draft law that would allow companies to sign regular employment contracts with children as young as 13, instead of the current adjusted contracts.

The draft law in question would mean companies need not apply for a permit from the Labor Inspectorate (Tööinspektsioon) to employ children aged 13 and upwards. In practice, this means that companies could sign an employment contract with a young person, offering both parties more protection than the contracts for services or authorisation agreements currently in place.

Pirjo Turk, social affairs ministry adviser on employment and pension policy, said such agreements are normally signed between professional service providers.

Turk said: "Frequently, when employing 13 or 14-year olds, authorization agreements are instead signed which are agency agreements and offer the young person far less protection in reality. The Employment Contracts Act has set work safety regulations and similar things, including how long rest breaks for minors must be. The obligation agreement does not contain these conditions."

The Union for Child Welfare (Lastekaitse Liit) assesses that problems do not arise from signed contracts, but rather spot checks that have identified violations, mainly touching on occupational health and employee safety.

Helika Saar, coordinator of the child welfare union's childs' rights program, said: "For example, in 2018, the Labor Inspectorate visited 89 employers and identified 402 violations, of which 251 were related to occupational health and safety violations. This inevitably leads to the question of why this amendment is necessary; it does not help in ensuring young persons' rights."

The ministry, however, states that the draft law would lessen the inspectorate's workload when it comes to reviewing documents and would allow for more spot checks.

Turk said: "This means employment contracts would be signed with young people and that would give the Labor Inspectorate the opportunity to go see if employers are fulfilling their obligations when employing minors."

The draft law should reach the government by the end of the year or at the start of 2021. According to the social affairs ministry, the amendment could come into force in spring of 2021.

Helika Saar, however, said that the draft law is still raw. "These options should be tabled for discussion and the Labor Inspectorate's views should also be listened to. If spot checks identify this many violations, then how can we avoid them. Is it possible to make the process smoother via digital solutions? I also see raising employer awareness and training as an important piece. Perhaps occupational associations need to take a look at this," she said.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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