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Some sectors to be hit by EU court's decision on working and rest time

Järvamaa Hospital signage in Paide.
Järvamaa Hospital signage in Paide. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

A decision by the European Court of Justice according to which some workers need to be given more time off in a week spells trouble for certain sectors of the economy.

The European Court of Justice's March 2 decision alters how legal acts regulating daily and weekly rest time are interpreted, meaning that employees who work based on a schedule, as opposed to from nine to five, need to be given more time off in a week. This makes life difficult for some employers. For example, the Tallinn City Transport Company (TLT) said that it will need to find new employees from an already exhausted labor market.

"TLT would hire a hundred bus drivers without a second thought, but there simply aren't any out there. We have labor shortage in the sector," the firm's board member Andrei Novikov said.

The entry into force of the new rules from January 1 is also dreaded by hospitals which are similarly plagued by labor shortage, with doctors forced to work at several hospitals as is.

"We have two choices, broadly speaking – working less by having fewer on-call doctors or closing medical institutions, which we just cannot do because society needs round-the-clock hospitals and ambulance service. The other option is to try and find alternative solutions, which are in short enough supply," said Urmas Sule, head of the Estonian Hospital Association.

Sule added that hospitals are thinking of ways to mitigate the problem in a way that social partners would understand but did not divulge any detailed ideas.

Liis Tõnismaa, head of the labor relations policy desk at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that the Labor Inspectorate will not be fining companies from January, based on an agreement between unions and employers, and will start by collecting information on where the new rules will start to impact service availability. But Tõnismaa said right away that healthcare is one such field.

"This [healthcare] is definitely one area where the inspectorate will look at work schedules and try to find solutions. It is possible that things will become very difficult and sector-specific solutions will need to be sought. We want to start by mapping out these problematic fields," Tõnismaa said.

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Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Marcus Turovski

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