Ministry planning temporary wage subsidy scheme for transit workers

Cargo train goods yard in Tallinn.
Cargo train goods yard in Tallinn. Source: Matthias Rikka/Operail

Estonia's port and rail transit workers' wages could be temporarily subsidized while the sector reorients itself away from Russian customers and attracts new business partners, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications has said.

The whole sector is looking for new business due to Russian sanctions, ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Monday.

Flaxseed from Kazakhstan is being shipped from Tallinn's Muuga grain terminal for the first time in 14 years. Seventy-three wagon loads arrived earlier this week destined for Belgium.

Head of Muuga's grain terminal Jan Lipinski said the Kazakhs have a history with Estonia and are keen to work with the country once again.

"Kazakhstan is a very big exporter of high-quality wheat. In the 2005-2007 grain seasons we processed between 1 million and 1.3 million tons of Kazakh grain. They remember us and want to export grain from Kazakhstan through Estonia," he told AK.

Uzbekistan is also interested in transporting goods to Estonia for shipment. Possibly commodities include metal, coal and grains.

Head of sales at state transport company Operail Marko Paatsi said: "This clearly shows that Central Asian countries' trade flows are looking for new ways to enter the international market."

However, replacing Russian customers and contracts is going to take time. To counter this, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications plans to subsidize wages from companies severely impacted by sanctions.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center) said a new scheme could be similar to the coronavirus wage subsidy scheme implemented during the pandemic. It would see a proportion of salaries paid by the government to companies who have taken a big hit.

"I think that three months might be enough time in the first stage to get clarity about the new situation," Aas told AK.

Operail's Paatsi said the scheme is "very necessary" as the company's trade volumes have dropped by approximately 50 percent.

It is hoped the Baltic states may be able to assist Ukraine — and help themselves — by transiting the country's goods through their ports. Ukraine usually exports via its Black Sea ports but these are currently blockaded by Russian ships.

The goods would need to transit through Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to reach Estonia but a big sticking point is that countries have different railway gauge systems.

Aas hopes this problem can be overcome but said it is unlikely Estonia can totally replace business from Russia. "We certainly can't replace everything, but a large part could be," he said.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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