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Trade union dispute with state-owned ferry company may end up in court

The Piret, a TS Laevad ferry operating between the mainland and Muhu island.
The Piret, a TS Laevad ferry operating between the mainland and Muhu island. Source: (Siim Lõvi /ERR)

The Independent Seamens' Union of Estonia (EMSA) is considering taking Port of Tallinn (Tallinna Sadam) subsidiary TS Laevad to court, claiming misrepresentation, and prolonging its dispute with the company on collective agreement, though it says strikes are not inevitable.

The EMSA already wants a public apology from TS Laevad, which operates vessels between the Estonian mainland and its islands and is part-owned, via the Port of Tallinn, by the Estonian state, alleging the company made false salary level statements of its EMSA employees and implied that the EMSA made unreasonable requests, and was interested only in its own members.

The EMSA has collective agreements with several Estonian shipping companies, but TS Laevad is at a sticking point. Disputes between the two go back to March, with no sign of compromise, though the two parties have met about 12 times, including hammering out a collective agreement, with the EMSA claiming it has acquiesced to several TS Laevad draft clauses.

EMSA wants TS Laevad apology

One EMSA requirement is increasing the TS Laevad pay rate of €5 per hour by €0.50, which is still a whole two euros lower than the pay in other shipping companies with which the EMSA has collective agreements, says the union.

Jüri Lember, EMSA chair, noted that the TS Laevad misrepresentations were repeated in several publications and is drafting a new publication putting the facts straight, which it will then submit to TS Laevad. The outcome of this submission will affect the final decision on whether to go to court, it is reported.

The EMSA also plans mediated meetings with TS Laevad, it is reported.

"If they apologise nicely at the table there, we will deliberate if, when, and what we are likely to do regarding the application," Mr Lember said, adding that according to media reports TS Laevad will set out its own stance at that meeting.

Strike not imminent

Pending the outcome of the interview, a strike of EMSA workers is not imminent, Mr Lember says.

"The joint wish of everyone is that new wages and basic wages are implemented for people and that there is salary growth from the new year, as this has not happened for two years," he said.

"This puts on some pressure, time-wise, on finding some kind of a solution. To the extent that it cannot be ruled out that people who earlier were seriously prepared to organize a 'warning' strike, are prepared to put it back on the table again, should the matter drag on," he continued.

Deadlocked negotiations

For its part, TS Laevad CEO Jaak Kaabel said: "We have been holding active negotiations with the EMSA since March this year; during that period we have been prepared to update several provisions concerning work conditions. Since the continuous new demands by EMSA are far beyond our means, we have arrived at a deadlock''.

The tit-for-tat didn't end there, however. The EMSA went on to accuse TS Laevad management of unethical behaviour in offering sweeteners to employees in order to induce them not to sign any collective agreement.

"Via a member of the management board [on 21 June this year], who visited the ship crews 18 clause of employee benefits were offered, aimed at sidestepping the signing of a collective agreement with the trade union," Mr Lember said.

Port of Tallinn shares were floated on the stock exchange earlier this year.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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