Government will not change law to make workplace vaccination mandatory

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A ambulance in Tallinn. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonia will not change the law to make coronavirus vaccination mandatory at work easier or harder. The final decision remains with the employer.

Employers are obligated to ensure workers and clients are safe from infection, in sectors such as medicine.

The Ministry of Social Affairs Labor Policy Department head Ulla Saar said that in the case of the coronavirus this means that, in general, the use of personal protective equipment and other work organization solutions. If these solutions are not enough, workers can be required to be vaccinated.

"If the employer has carried out a risk analysis, made an action plan and is convinced that without vaccination it is still not possible, offered vaccination to employees and generally found that other measures cannot mitigate these risks, and then explained to employees what happens if he or she stops vaccinating," said Saar, describing the process employers must go through. "But if there is really not a solution and the worker, however, refuses vaccination, it is legally possible to terminate an employment contract in an emergency"

In May, Tallinn Ambulance Service announced that it would stop employing unvaccinated members of staff because otherwise, it could not gaurantee patients' safety. Head of the ambulance service Raul Adlas explained that negotiations with workers who had refused vaccination ended on Friday and said in the coming week employment termination notifices will be sent out. Andlas confirmed that from August only vaccinated employees will work at the ambulance service.

"In general, we want to be a free society. We want the best possible agreements between workers and employers so that both can work as well and smoothly as possible. When we talk about healthcare, it is my opinion, and indeed is particularly critical, that difficult patients, care home patients, should be dealt with by those people whose risk of passing on the virus is minimalized. Today the only eveidence-based method for this is vaccination," he said.

Saar added that the ministry has no plans to change the law. Legal scholar Paloma Krõõt Tupay said that there is no reason for it. "Rather I saw the danger in this, if we start now to in a hurry to regulate something at the legislative level. The most important thing here is to achieve a balance between competing rights. I think our courts have all the tools to do that."

Ambulance workers who refused the vaccine have said in the past that they will go to court to defend their rights. If that happens, Tupay believes that an important point of contention could be whether the employer was convinced that there was no alternative to vaccination to ensure safety. 

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Editor: Helen Wright

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