Poll: Over half of citizens oppose easing language laws for service staff

Complaints to Estonian Language Inspectorate on the rise
Complaints to Estonian Language Inspectorate on the rise Source: AFP/Scanpix

More than half of Estonian citizens are opposed to easing language skills requirements for service staff, including waiters, taxi drivers and food couriers, the results of a recent survey show.

The survey, conducted by pollsters Norstat on behalf of the Institute for Social Research (MTÜ Ühiskonnauuringute Instituud), found that 63 percent of respondents would not be in favor of relaxing requirements.

Current the law states that customer-facing employees should have Estonian skills at B1 level in the Common European Framework (CEF).

A gradation of answers was possible: "Yes," "Preferably, yes," "Preferably, no," "No," and "Cannot say."

Sixty-three percent answered "No" or "Preferably, no" and 29 percent "Yes" or "Preferably, yes." Eight percent answered "Cannot say."

The figure answering no rose for native Estonian-speakers, with 70 percent opposed and 24 per cent in favor of loosening language requirements.

Among native Russian-speakers, 37 percent were against making language requirements easier, compared with 52 percent in support, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

In September, culture minister Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) said that the situation with service staff and Estonian had become intolerable.

Speaking on ERR's Vikerraadio, Lukas said that a situation where Estonians have to use a language other than Estonian for simple services such as taxis or ordering food had gotten out-of-hand. He urged all those concerned to approach the Language Inspectorate (Keeleinspektsioon ) on the matter, adding that the authorities options for putting things in order might be widened.

The language inspectorate has been known to pounce at customer-facing businesses, such as kiosks and hostels, giving recommendations and checking back later to see if changes have been implemented.

Past complaints have also noted in some cases even insufficient English skills to deal with customers adequately.

Others argue that food courier services like Wolt and the similarly-named Bolt (also a taxi and scooter hire company) do not necessitate much conversation in any language, given the service is used via an app, as well as noting the broader economic realities in plugging labor shortages.

The issue is also likely to vary by region. In Tallinn and Tartu, online food ordering services, taxis etc. are much more widespread than elsewhere; many towns in Estonia's easternmost county, Ida-Viru County, have native Russian-speaking majorities.

The survey was conducted by Norstat between September 25 and September 30, polling 1,000 Estonian citizens aged 18 and over and using both telephone and online surveys. 

Sample data was weighted relative to a proportional distribution of eligible citizens based on key socio-demographic characteristics, it is reported.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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