Estonia will need 1,000 more care workers by 2032

One thousand more care workers will be needed in Estonia over the next decade. The sector is already facing problems due to heavy workloads and low wages.

Estonia's population is aging and care workers are in short supply.

Anni Kurmiste, a health analyst at Praxis think tank, believes raising wages and reducing workloads is key to solving the problem.

"A comparison can be made with care workers working in the health sector, compared to them, wages are lower. Social care workers have critically low pay," Kurmiste told Tuesday's "Aktuaalne kaamera".

She believes establishing a minimum wage could be one solution.

However, Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) believes establishing a minimum wage would be difficult. Collective agreements are usually negotiated by employers and trade unions but carers have no representative body.

Road sign warning of a care home ahead. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Riisalo said reforms due to be implemented next year will help push up wages.

"We have calculated the price components — next year it will be €40 million, the year after €57 million, increasing by €3 million every year from then on. Next year, €1,300 is budgeted for the salary of a care worker," the minister said.

Additionally, reducing careers workloads and limiting the number of people they look after may help bring new people into the sector, Kurmiste suggested, highlighting workplace practices in other countries.

Riisalo said the new regulations will allow carers to look after nine difficult patients or 12 people with less severe needs.

Carers currently work with an average of 18 people, but many have higher workloads.

"As far as I know, there are also [cases where] employees have 22 clients, which is clearly beyond the physical and mental capacity of any human being, and it is not possible to work in this way," said Riisalo.

A pensioner. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Kristiina Ets, manager of the Alutagus care home in Ida-Viru County, said salaries are the biggest problem.

"For us, for nursing homes, one of our big competitors is the hospitals which are financed by the Health Insurance Fund and they have more possibilities to pay [higher] salaries," said Ets.

Ets hopes salaries will rise from July 1, 2023 when the state starts funding nursing home places.

Additionally, poor public transport networks are also a barrier to finding new staff, she told AK.

Earlier this month Estonia's lack of healthcare workers was raised by the National Audit Office. It found key decisions, including those around funding, have not yet been made.

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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Helen Wright

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