Ministry aims to even up civil service employee, official employment links

The Superministry building in Central Tallinn.
The Superministry building in Central Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Ministry of Finance has submitted for feedback a set of proposed legislative amendments which would even up currently distinct requirements for employees and officials in Estonia's civil service.

These changes should lead to more flexible and transparent working arrangements as well as increase people's opportunities for career mobility, the ministry announced this week.

According to Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform), the main issue with the Civil Service Act, which has been in force for a decade, is the differing treatment of employees and officials in civil service.

Namely, the law distinguished between civil service officials, who exercise public authority, and civil service employees, who perform support functions.

"Estonia is small, and we're competing with the private sector for labor," Võrklaev said. "We have to hang on to every valuable person. We cannot have differing requirements for civil servants and offer differing salaries based on whether someone is an official or an employee."

The two roles are starting to blur, eliminating the need for a strict distinction between the two, the minister acknowledged.

"And the country as a whole expects a more uniform work culture and transparency regarding employees' rights," he continued. "This is why we are suggesting ways to bring the two roles closer together."

Ülle Harak, director of the Public Administration and Public Service Department at the Ministry of Finance, explained that civil service officials are currently subject to tougher requirements than employees, who are subject only to the general regulations of the labor market.

"In practice, this has led to a situation where increasing numbers of people in civil service are switching to standard employment contracts," Harak said. "At the same time, both officials and employees represent the state, and should be subject to similar values."

 Among the proposals under consideration are:

  • harmonizing the salary system and payroll, resulting in a more uniform wage system;
  • disclosing employee salaries, similarly to those of officials;
  • adapting officials ethics into civil service ethics, applicable to public institution employees as well;
  • establishing a maximum term of employment for senior managers equal to twice the term of office, to avoid political or economic influence on an institution;
  • converting mid-level manager (department director) service relationships to fixed terms, facilitating mobility and freeing up posts for people with new ideas and different knowledge or skills;
  • abandoning the regulation of development and assessment interviews, to increase institutions' freedom in determining how to evaluate performance and which development measures to implement;
  • facilitating people's career mobility within and between institutions.

Which proposals will end up amended into law will be determined after the ministry receives feedback on them.

"There are two options — either we'll introduce some of the proposed changes, or we'll carry out a reform that would leave only one type of employment relationship in civil service," Harak said.

Currently, the director of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS) and director general of the Competition Authority are already limited to two terms. The Security Authorities Act also prescribes the same rule for the directors of Estonia's security services.

The ministry wants to limit deputy directors of government agencies to fixed-term contracts as well, as is already currently the case for the deputy director general of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS, or KAPO).

Proposed changes would also introduce a public sector minimum wage of 60 percent of Estonia's median salary.

Last year, a total of 22,410 civil servants worked for state authorities, including 6,986 officials, 9,057 special service officials, 5,239 contractual employees and 1,137 special service employees.

The Civil Service Act also applies to local government authorities, which last year employed a total of 5,517 people, including 2,957 officials and 2,560 employees.

Relevant authorities have one month to provide feedback on the Finance Ministry's proposals. According to the ministry's plan, proposed changes are slated to take effect on July 1 next year.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla, Marcus Turovski

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