Reform the only party against moving weekend public holidays to weekdays

Sunday's reenactment in Kuressaare centered around Elmar Ilp, Saaremaa's most famous Forest Brother. August 7, 2022.
Sunday's reenactment in Kuressaare centered around Elmar Ilp, Saaremaa's most famous Forest Brother. August 7, 2022. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

All major parties, excluding the Reform Party, support granting additional days off for public holidays that fall on weekends.This proposal is included in the Center Party's electoral program, and the Social Democrats have made a similar proposal to the Riigikogu.

"Estonia 200 supports the idea that if a public holiday falls on a weekend, give working people the day off," Margus Tsahkna, an Estonia 200 board member, said. He added that such a practice is very common in Europe.

"We do not go in detail on this in the Isamaa election platform, but we are happy to discuss the issue of weekends and holidays. We examined the economic impact of this change: it is minor, and the benefits to workers may outweigh the economic disadvantage," Isamaa chair, Helir-Valdor Seeder, said.

Peep Peterson, Minister of Health and Labor and member of the Social Democratic Party (SDE), told ERR that the Social Democrats have also supported this idea and have submitted a draft to the Riigikogu.

"Rather, the issue at the moment is that we need to negotiate trilaterally with trade unions and employers to reach an agreement on exactly how to implement this idea and to what extent," Peterson added.

Welding helmet. Source: ERR

In response to a comment that this idea has previously failed to be implemented because Isamaa and the Reform Party have not supported it, Peterson said that this is why negotiations with the social partners are now underway.

"All of the agreements reached between the Estonian Employers' Confederation and the Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL), the parties claim that the balance is clearly in place, and they are not challenged by any party," he said.

"The only way to resolve this situation is for the social partners to reach an agreement, and then the law can be amended."

Peterson said that there had been hope that an agreement was close, but it now appears that the Riigikogu's composition will not be able to vite on it.

"However, the social partners have been discussing it for a long time and an agreement is now within reach. And it will be a great deal if the Center Party also supports it," he went on to say.

Henn Põlluaas, vice-chair of the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE), said: "We haven't paid special attention to this in our program, but in principle we are of the same opinion that if a public holiday, Midsummer Day or whatever, falls on a weekend, then people could be given an extra day off either on Friday or Monday."

Põlluaasa said that Estonia has far fewer days off than other countries and could have more. "Opponents have always claimed that this would reduce our country's tax revenue and the amount of work done in businesses, but people who have had a good rest are much more capable of working and motivated to do more work. You could easily go against the grain in that regard," He said.

Tanel Kiik, vice-chair of the Center Party, said: "It is well known that Estonia has fewer public holidays than the majority of EU countries, requiring citizens to work long hours even on holidays observed in other European countries. Consider that the Easter season; it is slightly shorter compared to the rest of Europe."

Roadwork in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

One reasonable solution, he believes, would be to grant a day off for a weekend public holiday. "To put it simply, a weekend would not deprive people of Estonia's few public holidays and rest days," Kiik explained.

"Distinctions do exist based on industry and field. There's also the question of whether it's better to take a day off the day before or the day after. However, it would be a step in the right direction to provide people with more opportunities to spend time with their families and loved ones, rest, engage in leisure activities, or, if they must work, to be paid more, as required by law," Kiik stated.

Reform Party is against

Signe Riisalo, a member of the Reform Party and Minister for Social Protection, said that if a public holiday falls on a weekend, the day off following the holiday would not contribute to its celebration.

"One thing is certain: the Reform Party's election promises do not include this.
To be honest, the Reform Party has not supported this idea before," Riisalo said.

"However, we welcomed the idea of increased work flexibility because there is already a great deal of flexibility and Monday through Friday employment is not the norm. Which begs the question: if we provide this type of advantage or concession to those who work Monday through Friday, how do we compensate the enormous number of people who work in a non-standard manner, including on weekends, and who do not have normal working hours?" she asked.

Long-term, it is essential, Riisalo added, that working life become more flexible, allowing people to better organize their working hours.

"Of course, this is not realistic for all jobs, but life has shown that different platforms, different forms of contracts, and working Monday through Friday are no longer for everyone," she said. Specifically, Riisalo referred to the organization of teaching in schools: "If we consider the education system, for instance, and if we also offer teachers these additional days off, then it is impossible to complete the curriculum and organize teaching within the school year."

"On the other hand, people are meant to celebrate public holidays. And if a national or public holiday falls on a weekend, people are able to celebrate it," the Minister of Social Protection said. "Having more days off is obviously a perk, but it adds nothing to the importance or enjoyment of these holidays."

Referring to the possibility that trilogue negotiations could result in an agreement on the resolution of such cases, which could then be formalized by the parliament, Riisalo responded that this would still require the approval of the political parties.

"Certainly, it is possible for one or the other party or the government to forward this idea before the Riigikogu. Nonetheless, I must emphasize that the parliament, as the legislative body, has the authority to legalize or not legalize this amendment. Therefore, an agreement must be reached also outside the scope of tripartite negotiations," Riisalo stressed.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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