Power engineers laid off in Narva facing difficulties finding work

Eesti Energia's Narva power stations.
Eesti Energia's Narva power stations. Source: Mihkel Maripuu/Eesti Meedia/Scanpix

The power engineers to be furloughed starting mid-July as part of substantial layoffs announced announced by Eesti Energia earlier this year will likely have difficulties finding employment at comparable wages, trade unions say.

At Enefit Energy Production, operator of Estonia's Ida-Viru County power plants and subsidiary of state-owned Eesti Energia, they are paid around €2,000 gross per month—while the average salary in the area is just €1,100. This means that professionals leaving Enefit later this summer, if they want to remain in Ida-Virumaa, will have to significantly lower their salary expectations.

The current electricity production crisis forces all those employees about to be laid off to make a tough decision. They can either stay and accept jobs that pay a lot less, or move where they can expect to be made a better offer.

Oil shale-based energy production industry not likely to recover

Local trade unions, established in the area after decades of oil shale use as a relatively cheap and locally available fuel to produce electricity, are still reeling. Just weeks ago, President Kersti Kaljulaid visited the area and, as just the latest in a whole line of politicians and officials, made it clear to the power plant workers that the era of oil shale in Estonia's power production is over.

According to Andrei Zaitsev, leader of the Narva Energia trade union, this came as a shock to both workers and locals. "We were shown Unemployment Insurance Fund papers saying that we need plenty of workers here [in Ida-Viru County]," Zaitsev said. "But for one thing, salaries here are very low, and for another the profile of the jobs on offer here doesn't fit with that of our workers."

Zaitsev thinks it unlikely that a great number of power engineers will want to retrain and start completely different jobs. "Once the furlough starts, these specialists won't sit at home and wait for everything to work out, but they'll go and look for work elsewhere," he added.

Local businessman: Enefit staff overpaid, expectations too high

According to Statistics Estonia, the average gross salary paid in the electricity production sector is over €2,000, and over €1,600 in the mining sector. According to Aare Pihelgas, CEO of local electrical motor producer OÜ Waldchnep, a possible future employer, these expectations are too high.

"I think that they're overpaid where they are. [Enefit] is a state-owned company, where salaries aren't up for debate, but private business can't offer such high salaries, and there aren't many businesses at all who could offer as much as €1,800 a month in Narva," Pihelgas pointed out.

For the authorities to then suggest that there are plenty of jobs available to Enefit's specialists is nothing but "noise," he added.

While Waldchnep would happily hire as many as 20 people on the spot, the work it offers requires training and thus starts at a modest €800 gross, which over time will increase to a salary of €1,500. There is currently no interest in this kind of work in Narva, Pihelgas said.

"Not a single person at the power plants has asked us about work," he added.

According to Enefit Energy Production, the situation in the market is so bad that they will have to begin with furloughs as early as next month. While a slim chance remains that the market will recover enough to justify taking people back on by the fall, it is more likely that most of the workers affected will be laid off. There are currently some 500 positions affected.


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Editor: Dario Cavegn

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