Business chiefs say Mart Helme foreign labor legal amends ineffective

Construction workers in Estonia. Image is illustrative
Construction workers in Estonia. Image is illustrative Source: Rene Suurkaev/ERR

Business organizations in Estonia say that, while they support initiatives by interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) to amend the Aliens Act 2009 in relation to foreign labor, the exact changes proposed will not meet their objectives.

The amendments include efforts to reduce employment regulations infractions in Estonia, including reversing the burden of proof to make employers responsible for following the rules, as announced by Helme in July. This burden is unrealistic, according to business chiefs, however, since it means employers hiring from third party companies, such as recruitment agencies, will themselves be responsible for compliance regulations.

The Estonian Employers' Confederation (ETTK) and the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eesti Kaubandus-Tööstuskoda) both concur that the Aliens Act 2009 requires amending, to help reduce the abuse of foreign employment regulations in Estonia and to encourage law-abiding behavior on the part of both foreign workers and their employers, Arto Aas and Mait Palts, heads of the two organizations, wrote in an open letter to Mart Helme.

"At the same time, we reject the measures proposed in the bill because we do not see them as the most reasonable way to achieve the desired goal," the statement continues, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

"We support the aim of the change in law — to help reduce the abuse of regulations regarding foreign labor in Estonia. At the same time, we oppose the measures proposed in the bill, since we do not see them as the most reasonable way to achieve the desired goal," the letter adds.

Chorus of opposition

The Estonian Association of Construction Entrepreneurs
(EEEL), the Estonian Human Resource Management Association (PARE) and the Estonian Association of Mechanical Engineering (EAE) have also added their voices to the appeal.

The organizations say the amends were a rush draft and, as a result, measures are unclear to both businesses and supervisory authorities alike, in addition to lacking proper impact analysis.

"It remains incomprehensible as to what kind of problem we want to solve, i.e. what kind of schemes are being used to solve foreign labor issues," Arto Aas said.

"The new measures ought to help prevent abuses. At the moment, we see the desire to enforce untested measures quickly, but that cannot be an end in itself," Aas added in a press release.

Mait Palts also added that the bill would increase the administrative burden on honest entrepreneurs in terms of compliance with control obligations.

"At the same time this also adds disproportionate liability to third parties for many businesses. The government cannot, by reversing the burden of proof, indiscriminately increase the burden on businesses and impose their responsibilities on employers. If so, major employers could soon have no resources left," he said.

"For example, prime contractors, who do not hire foreign workers themselves, but who, according to the draft, could be classified as user companies, would, under the draft, become responsible for subcontractors by controlling other companies' contracts with foreign workers and the related payment of taxes. However, this is essentially impossible for them to do," Palts continued.

According to both organizations, the current draft is of a poor quality and starting the legislative procedure from scratch would be more effective. The first step should be to develop a draft intent that the current amends do not have, they say. However, according to the good legislation best practices, as a general rule, say such drafts should be carried out in advance.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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