Increasing number of foreign workers seeking help from lawyers

Short-term workers are not subject to Estonia's annual immigration quota.
Short-term workers are not subject to Estonia's annual immigration quota. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

More and more foreign workers in Estonia are turning to lawyers for help with their employment problems, Eesti Õigusbüroo law office said on Friday. The majority of the workers are from Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus.

The people seeking are often too afraid to stand up for their rights themselves out of fear that they might be expelled from Estonia.

In the past two and a half years, Eesti Õigusbüroo has been approached regarding matters of employment law on 1,806 occasions. The vast majority, 1099, have been in Tallinn, followed by Tartu with 173, and Narva with 142.  

The problems are most commonly are related to employment contracts. Some employees don't have one, while for others the employer has not fulfilled their promises or is paying cash in hand.  

There are many cases where an employment contract has been concluded but the employee has never seen it. It also happens frequently that in foreign workers are not being paid the required minimum pay for a foreign worker, which is €1,200. In many cases it has been written into the employment contract, but the worker is only being paid €600 a month.  

Katrin Martis, lawyer specializing in labor law at Eesti Õigusbüroo, that over the course of her career she had never seen such big numbers of foreign workers seeking help from lawyers.

"On the one hand it is good that they dare to seek for help, and in general we can help them too. On the other hand, it is saddening that our employers often exploit them and commit irregularities with remuneration. The Police and Border Guard Board has established a specific pay levels for foreign workers with different qualifications, but these levels don't tend to be observed very much and often the foreigner is so glad about getting a job that they don't dare to ask for an employment contract nr for remuneration for working overtime," Martis said. 

The lawyer recalled one client, an employer, turning up for an appointment with a lawyer and asking frankly what they should do to avoid paying taxes on Ukrainian workers. 

"Of course many employers are different, but my experience rather shows that their wish rather is to put the workforce that has arrived here from Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus to work as favorably as possible, bypassing the law and valid requirements. The state must analyze the situation and take relevant measures in order to make sure everything to do with hiring foreign workers is better controlled," Martis said. 

Eesti Õigusbüroo, in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, provides legal assistance free of charge and under favourable terms to people residing in Estonia. It's available to all Estonian people whose gross monthly income is below the 1.5 times the average gross monthly income, published by the Statistical Office of Estonia. Currently, this is less than €2,128.50.

To find out more visit here.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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