President declines assent to bill amending employer-employee legislation

President Kaljulaid at the opening session of the Riigikogu on September 13, 2021.
President Kaljulaid at the opening session of the Riigikogu on September 13, 2021. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

President Kersti Kaljulaid has declined to sign into effect a bill which would amend legislation governing collective agreements between employees and employers, on the grounds that it was not handled at the Riigikogu in line with the Estonian Constitution.

The bill aimed to amend the Collective Agreements Act, plus related legislation, and had passed its Riigikogu vote, but the president said on Tuesday that, in her assessment, parliament had breached its own Rules of Procedure, as well as the Internal Rules Act, while processing the bill.

Kaljulaid said: "I have decided not to promulgate the bill amending the Collective Agreements Act and other related laws, due to it being incompatible with the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia.

"It is one of the basic principles of the functioning of our state that the powers of the state, including the process of passing laws, be executed only on the basis of the Constitution and laws that are consistent with the Constitution. With regard to the bill in question, the Riigikogu has unfortunately erred against this principle and ignored the rules stipulated by the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act," she continued, according to spokespersons.

The issue of contention was changes made to the bill between its second and third reading and concerning its entry into effect, the president added.

"In order for all elected representatives to be able to contribute to lawmaking, only technical correction of bills is permitted after second reading, and before the final vote. The issue of a law's entry into effect is in no way a technical matter; it is an issue that merits a substantial discussion, which members of the parliament have in this case been deprived of by the social affairs committee," she said. 

President has right to reject bills they view as unconstitutional

Part of the Estonian president's role is to conduct a constitutional review and verify that laws have been passed in accordance with the Constitution. 

If the head of state declines to give her or his assent to a bill, it is returned to the Riigikogu, with the option of either passing the bill again unchanged, or starting the legislative process from the beginning.

If this fails to solve the issue, the matter goes to the Supreme Court, with the Chancellor of Justice representing the state.

During her five-year presidency, Kersti Kaljulaid has given her assent to nearly 500 pieces of legislation, and declined to promulgate six bills. Notable examples of the latter include a law which reformed the Estonian pension system, and one which raised alcohol excise duties.

In the first case, the president took the bill to the Supreme Court in Tartu after the Riigikogu returned it unchanged. The Supreme Court ruled in October last year that the bill was not unconstitutional, and it came into effect at the beginning of this year.

The Supreme Court found the excise duty hike bill was not contrary to the constitution, in summer 2017.

The Collective Agreements Act governs voluntary agreements between employees, or an association or a federation of employees, and employers, or an association or a federation of employers, and also state bodies and local government.

It regulates employment relationships between employers and employees and agreements' form, entry into effect and dispute resolution.

President Kersti Kaljulaid's term in office ends on October 11.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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