The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (MKM) wants to quadruple the annual quota for migrant workers from third countries to relieve the labor shortage. Trade unions said analysis is needed to make sure the move would not repress wage growth.
Many of Estonia's industries rely on foreign labor. One of these is the shipbuilding company BLRT Grupp, where 20 percent of the workforce comes from abroad.
"Most of our skilled workers come from outside the European Union. There is also a big shortage of such workers in the European Union," Roman Vinartšuk, adviser to the board of BLRT Group, told Monday's "Aktuaalne kaamera".
"We have Lithuanian subsidiaries, more than 20 of them, and in Lithuania we have about 2,000 employees. Lithuania has never had quotas, they have a much more flexible labor policy and it shows, Lithuania is doing better," he added.
At the start of every year, companies must fight for one of Estonia's 1,300 long-term work permits to register their third-country workforce. This quota is set every year and amounts to 0.1 percent of the population.
Deputy Secretary General for Economy and Innovation Sandra Särav said companies want the quota to be much higher, even quadrupled to more than 5,000.
"Businesses say the quota could be at least three or four times higher, so that we better meet the needs of the labor market. The Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs has analyzed that perhaps the figure could be 0.3 percent instead of 0.1. This means that in that case, we would bring 3,800 people a year to Estonia. And if we take into account that 13,000 people will be missing from the labor market, then this figure of 3,800 is actually quite conservative," said Särav.
There are already exceptions to the quota, such as academics, IT, and startup workers.
Trade unions told AK the subject could be discussed and needs thorough analysis.
"What is important for our own workers is that when people are brought in, or when migration increases, they are not competing for wages. In other words, there would be no wage dumping, so that our wages fall because cheap labor comes in from abroad," said Kaia Vask, head of the Estonian Trade Union Confederation.
Särav added if the quota is increased, this cannot be completely ruled out.
"In some ways, we can't guarantee that, but so far the quota has been segmented, that is, we divide up which jobs people can be brought to and to what extent. If next year that number is 1,303, for example, we envisage that maybe 200 permits could go to transport," she said.
The quota could be increased from 2025.
Editor: Marko Tooming, Helen Wright