AK: Tartu cafe owner bars staff from conducting vaccine certificate checks

Raekoja plats in central Tartu.
Raekoja plats in central Tartu. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The owner of two catering businesses in central Tartu is not permitting staff members to perform coronavirus vaccine certificate checks, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Friday night, on the grounds that they violate basic human rights.

Tairi Leis, owner of the Eesti Pubi Ruuni and the Armastus Kohvik, both close by Raekoja plats in the heart of Tartu, told AK that: "Personally, I just couldn't go ahead and ask [for vaccine certification] because it is a particularly crazy form of discrimination."

"I think we all have a right to the basic things in life. Starting to differentiate on the basis of whether I have a vaccine passport or not, is very, very humiliating," she went on.

However, the former manager of the two venues, Silja Laht, painted a different picture, saying that many staff feared contracting the coronavirus as a result of the ruling.

Laht said: "One employee cried repeatedly, and told me: 'Silja, I don't want to be here, at work. I don't want to be in a place where I might get sick'."

"Since the owner had let people come in, as a result of that, when a staff member had asked for [vaccination] evidence, the owner said there was no need, and just to come in," Laht went on.

"This was very unpleasant for a lot of people, and one employee was constantly scrubbing themselves all over, that they might feel a little more secure," Laht added.

A recent government order, which came into effect August 26, requires checking coronavirus status at all indoor public gatherings – businesses like cafes and restaurants constitute public gatherings – regardless of the number of people present.

Previously, the requirement had applied to indoor gatherings with over 50 people, including those working at the venue or present in any other capacity.

However, not only does Eesti Pubi Ruuni not require vaccination proof, it also announces as much on its social media page, stating that: "Eesti Pubi Ruuni also loves those who do not have a vaccination passport. We believe in freedom of choice for people and personal sanctity. We won't discriminate against anyone, on the basis of their choices. Be you omnivore or vegan, vaccinated or not, come and visit us."

Whereas in most cases, employees tend to ask whether their employer has the right to require them to provide vaccination or testing proof, or to get vaccinated, when things are the other way round, the requirements are still the same.

Sandra Kuus, counselor at the Labor Inspectorate (Tööinspektsioon), told AK that: "An employer is responsible for their working environment. In this case, to prevent the virus from spreading in the workplace. If an employer wants to impose the vaccination or testing checking requirement, they must carry out a risk analysis and assess biological risk factors, to mitigate these risks. This is where the question of whether vaccination or testing is mandatory can arise from."

Employment lawyer Marika Oksaar told AK that under the Employment Contracts Act, an employee has an obligation to comply only with those instructions, given to them by an employer, which are legal.

Oksaar said: "If an instruction is illegal, then it is null and void and the staff member has no obligation to comply with it."

James Ramsden, Manager and co-owner at the Pudel Baar in Tallinn's Tellisivi district, told ERR News that the switch to vaccine certification checks regardless of numbers of patrons had made things easier, not harder.

Ramsden said: "For us, counting people over 50 would have been more work than just asking for documents. We made the decision a few weeks ago to only serve those with the required certificates. It's not discriminating against those who don't, it's just a decision to make the business flow easier."

Ultimately Sirja Laht resigned as manager of Eesti Pubi Ruuni and Armastus Kohvik, in an atmosphere of conflict, as a result of the impasse, she told AK.

The government order, AK reported, also requires staff members who refuse to ask for vaccine passports to be summonsed by their employer for an explanation.

A continued lack of clarity on regulations and their changes, and the practical ways of enforcing them, has not helped, and has led to a situation where the regulations are inconsistently applied, James Ramsden at Pudel told ERR News.

He said: "The most work is trying to understand the rules we have to follow. It would be great if there was some sort of 'help pack' provided by the government online, which includes printable signs and notices to display on our premises. That way, everybody (fellow bars and restaurants) would be promoting the same message."

The original AK clip (in Estonian) is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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