The Estonian Seamen's Independent Union (EMSA) is accusing a member of the management of ferry operator TS Laevad of unethical behaviour and alleging that company employees were offered various benefits in order to free it from signing a collective agreement through the trade union.
TS Laevad, the subsidiary of Port of Tallinn (AS Tallinna Sadam) which operates ferries between the mainland and the large Western Estonian islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, said on Tuesday that it had broken off talks with EMSA and turned to the public conciliator as negotiations that have been held since March have failed to lead to a collective agreement.
According to the trade union, however, they were only notified of this development through the media on Tuesday.
EMSA chairman Jüri Lember said that since March, the trade union has met with the company on at least 12 occasions in various quorums, adding that the trade union has agreed with the wording of the employer in several clauses of the collective agreement or abandoned the continued submission of corresponding claims.
He said, however, that the employer acted unethically over the summer, specifically on 21 June.
"Through a member of the management board, who visited ship crew, a member of the management of TS Laevad offered employees benefits consisting of altogether 18 clauses in order to escape the signing of a collective agreement through the trade union," he explained. "This kind of behaviour by the employer obviously changed what went on at the negotiation table."
Inflation raises requested
According to Lember, members of the crews working on the ferries are not demanding anything extraordinary in the collective agreement talks. The main demands from the employees include the guarantee that the value of the payable salary will not constantly diminish. More specifically, employees want accidents in the work environment to be insured.
The first significant wish is that the salaries of employees are adjusted annually in the value of the consumer price index (CPI) of the past calendar year. On the lowest salary levels, the request is for a raise in the hourly wage of 50 cents. The trade union said that currently, the seamen's hourly wage is €5 at the company, which means that the gross average monthly salary for standard hours is €842.50.
"This is over €2 less than the customary seaman salary in other Estonian shipping companies with whom EMSA has collective agreements," he pointed out. "The employer has offered on the first occasion a CPI-dependent 8.3-cent raise and on the second occasion a 10-cent hourly pay rate increase, which would offer an additional gross monthly pay of €14 or €17 euros, respectively. This in a situation where the average gross monthly wage in the country has grown by over €65 per year and the salary at this company has not been raised by even a cent in two years."
Lack of transparency
Despite a written inquiry, the EMSA chair said that TS Laevad has refused to disclose certain figures of the 2017 annual report.
"We asked what a €4.9 million amortisation, that is, a decrease in the value of assets over one year, means, but also how much was paid to the executive management in premiums for 2017," he said, adding that although this is supposed to be a state enterprise through the state's shareholding, they have still not received a response to these questions.
"Alongside complaints about a constant lack of money, a likely relatively expensive labour law advisory firm has been simultaneously involved in the collective agreement talks since spring," Lember continued. "This kind of behavior by the company leaves the impression that neither the parent company AS Tallinna Sadam nor the subsidiary TS Laevad has employed an educated person competent in labour law. The employees have a legitimate question whether the talk about a lack of money is actually true."
EMSA is hoping that now that the company has announced the decision to break off talks, the trade union along with the help of journalists and a public conciliator will receive answers to several questions.
Negotiations have been held with EMSA, which represents around 14% of TS Laevad ship crew members.
TS Laevad is a subsidiary of the listed Estonian port company AS Tallinna Sadam, whose majority shares belong to the state.
Editor: Aili Vahtla