While most Estonian employers continue to pay reservists who are called up for military drills, not everyone does. The Ministry of Defense soon hopes to convince every business to retain salaries.
Around 60 percent of reservists summoned usually show up for trainings. There are three main types of reasons why people miss them, including family obligations, health problems or the fact that spending a week or two away from work constitutes a major financial problem for many. Employers can hold back wages during that period, whereas the state stipend for participation is much lower.
"Around 65-66 percent of companies say they are willing to compensate employees during time off work for trainings. Around 20 percent say they are not willing, while the rest suggest they do not employ reservists. Our goal is to see readiness grow to 90 percent by 2027," said Martin Reisner, in charge of national defense motivation efforts at the ministry.
Security services group G4S has continued paying reservists during exercises for the past decade. The measure has benefited 70 employees this year. G4S board member Villu Õun did not wish to disclose the cost for the company, despite being a reservist himself, while it is clear the sum is considerable.
"In Finland, employers are obligated to keep paying reservists' salaries. While it would cause panic or at least dissatisfaction in Estonia, the Finns are happy to do it. It is an honor for them. Personally, I believe Estonia could get there one day," Õun said.
Mait Palts, head of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, agrees with the goal but believes it should not be achieved through mandatory regulation. A tax break could be enough to motivate employers.
"Employers can today compensate people who are on sick leave for the difference between the sickness benefit and the average salary without having to pay social tax on the amount. I believe a similar principle should be put in place," he said.
The ministry is in no rush to amend existing legislation. It wants to talk to entrepreneurs first and make a case for supporting reservists. But Reisner admits that the goal is ambitious. Therefore, the government's contribution might have to grow in the future.
"We can discuss tax breaks, exceptions, while we could also consider hiking the participation stipend. There are myriad options," Reisner said.
It will likely be difficult to convince all entrepreneurs simply by raising awareness.
"Why are we short of 100 percent motivation today? There are those who are fundamentally opposed to national defense. Heads of companies who do not come from an Estonian-speaking background are on average 20 percent less likely to be supportive of national defense efforts. Of course, we also need to work with them," Reisner added.
Editor: Alseksander Krjukov, Marcus Turovski