In the First Quarter, the Chamber Defended the Interests of Entrepreneurs in Topics Related to Health, Labour, Economy etc.
In the first quarter of 2021, the Chamber of Commerce published written opinions on 44 draft acts, intentions to develop or other policy formation documents, which is a fifth more than during the same period of last year. At the beginning of the second quarter, we have over 20 topics on the table, which is almost 50 percent more than usual.
In addition to the official addresses provided below, there was weekly communication with various authorities as well as the government in relation to the current health crisis, education topics and other themes that need active interference in order to ensure stability and sustainability of the business environment. During the first quarter, the board of the Chamber of Commerce met separately with Andres Sutt, Minister of entrepreneurship and information technology, Jaak Aab, Minister of Public Administration and the President and Director General of the Chamber met with the President of the Republic of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid and Minister of Justice Maris Lauri. Furthermore, representatives of the Chamber participated in the meetings of the Parliament’s economic committee, special committee for corruption, environmental committee and legal committee. During the first quarter, Mait Palts, Director General of the Chamber of Commerce was also appointed as the member of the council of KredEx.
The most important topics in the first quarter were:
We requested allowing vaccinating at work
On 24 March, the Chamber contacted the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication with the wish to allow vaccinating employees at work. According to the proposal, employers would identify the list of employees who wish to be vaccinated and notify employees of the time of vaccination, and it would be the state’s duty to ensure that vaccinators would come to the place of work at the time agreed with the employer with the necessary quantity of vaccines as is a standard procedure for vaccinations against seasonal flu.
As of the beginning of April, we are waiting for the response from the Ministries. We hope that in the initial phase of mass vaccinations, it can be done at work. The letter is available here
Proposal to establish a voluntary health fund
At the beginning of March, we proposed the Ministry of Finance to establish an additional voluntary health fund where employers and employees can make payments. Employees would have an additional possibility to make payments from the fund in order to cover the cost of unexpected health problems. Essentially, such fund could be compared with the third pillar of pension. The Chamber finds that establishing such fund is extremely necessary, considering the future perspective of financing medicine.
At the moment, the Ministry has not given any feedback to the Chamber. The letter is available here
Increasing the tax-free limit for health promotion expenses
In February, we made a proposal to the Ministry of Finance to increase the tax-free limit for health promotion expenses from the current 400 euros to 800 euros per year. Furthermore, the list of tax-exempt expenses should additionally include vaccination, medical examinations and paid health care services. In our address, we highlighted that increasing the limit will have an effect on the revenues collected by the state, but the negative impact on the state budget is rather small or non-existent because offering and using the benefit is only an opportunity and not an obligation for the companies. Furthermore, if employers would contribute more to the health of their employees, the wellbeing of employees as well as public health will improve, which in turn would decrease general healthcare expenses. Furthermore, use of health-related services and taxes collected from there would increase.
In the Chamber’s opinion, the list of tax-exempt expenses could additionally include vaccination (e.g. flu vaccine, encephalitis vaccine etc.), various medical examinations (that are not included among the examinations done during health checks, e.g. bloodwork, fitness tests), but also paid health care services (e.g. dental care, specialized doctors etc.).
The Ministry did not support the Chamber’s proposal, but a meeting with the Ministry of Finance is planned for the second quarter in order to explain the need for changes. The letter is available here
Entrepreneurs do not support the planned amendments to the Adult Education Act
The Chamber of Commerce expressed its opinion regarding the intention to amend the Adult Education Act, in which we highlighted that the planned amendments are too focused on the formal checks of the requirements established for the additional training institutions, although the actual focus should instead be on promoting the quality of additional training through efficient and sustainable measures.
So far, the Ministry of Education and Research has not given any feedback on the Chamber’s address. The letter is available here
Estonian and Finnish Chambers of Commerce turned to their governments in order to alleviate the established restrictions
At the end of January, we jointly with the Finnish Chamber of Commerce turned to the governments of our countries to alleviate the established restrictions. Although the joint address of the Chambers was not taken into account, we initiated a dialogue in the course of which several deficiencies in the communication between the two countries were identified. The joint address was also discussed by the prime ministers of both countries during their first meeting. The letter is available here
Employers should not be responsible for the safety of home offices
At the end of last year, the Chamber turned to the Ministry of Social affairs to ensure that employers would be more free in allowing their employees to work remotely. Namely, there is no difference if a person works from the office or home office – at the moment, responsibility of employer for the safety of working environment is the same. In our address, we wanted to amend the law so that employers would be responsible only for what they actually can influence. In case of remote work, employers should provide employees with the necessary tools and instructions on how to design their workplace and work without harming their health. Anything further should be up to and the responsibility the employee. Employees would design their own workspace and work according to the employer’s instructions, place their monitors at the right height, avoid noisy working environment etc.
The Ministry did not support the entrepreneur’s proposals as such, but during the meeting with the Ministry we explained the need for changes and it was agreed that the Ministry will think if and how the regulations can be amended. The letter is available here
In February, we conducted a survey among members in order to identify labour-related problems
The results of the survey show that companies wish to make rules related to employment relations more flexible. For example, many respondents proposed that it should be allowed to conclude an employment contract with changing workload and temporary employment contracts in more cases as well as to make employer’s liability for remote work more reasonable. In total, 52 companies responded to the survey and the volume of the feedback was over 20 pages. Thus, the overview above covers only a certain part of the proposals received. The Chamber will use the feedback when communicating with officials and politicians in order to help alleviating labour-related concerns of companies. Read the proposals
Draft Waste Act and Packaging Act Amendment Act processed by the Parliament
In relation to the draft act, business organisations wish that the environmental committee and the members of the Parliament would not add radical amendment proposals to the draft act, which would bring clear additional costs, but the impact of which on the environment or the economy is unknown. Furthermore, in cooperation with the Estonian Trade Association, Estonian Chemical Industry Association, Estonian Food Industry Association and NGO Eesti Taaskasutusorganisatsioon we made a proposal to make the planning process for realising the goals of waste and packaging administration, decreasing the use of single-use plastics or other circular economy goals more transparent and inclusive for the stakeholders.
Our proposal was taken into account and the target number for recycling of sales packaging will not be added to the draft amendment act of the Waste Act and Packaging Act being worked on by the Parliament. At the same time we see other problems in the draft and work on their solving will continue in the second quarter.
We are involved daily in the discussion of problems related to labour and we also highlight the issues related to foreign labour and suggest solutions for them during various meetings. For example, we made a proposal to exempt from immigration quota engineers and aliens employed with trustworthy employers. Furthermore, we made a proposal to replace the average salary requirement with the average salary of the sector. We also highlighted the concern in relation to the deposit requirement for companies involved in labour brokering.
At the beginning of the second quarter we will be meeting, among others, with the Minister of the Interior in order to discuss issues related to employment of aliens.
Chamber finds that diagnosis of occupational diseases should have a clearer connection to the specific working environment
In February, we sent a letter to the Ministry of Social Affairs in which we wanted to change the existing regulation so that the connection to a specific working environment would be clearer than it is today. In our letter we highlighted the occupational health and safety doctors should have clear data on other employers and they should also have full access to a person’s health data, digital health files and these should be utilised to the maximum amount (e.g. also information that a person has disclosed in health declarations). On-site inspection of the working environment and interviewing the employer would also be relevant. In addition to that, employer should have more information to be able to assess if all important aspects have been taken into account when making a decision on occupational illness and connecting to a specific working environment.
The Ministry did not support various proposals made by the Chamber, but in the second quarter we will be continuing activities aimed at explaining to the Ministry the need to establish the desired amendments. The letter is available here
Increasing transparency of legislative drafting
In February we addressed the state with the aim of increasing transparency of legislative drafting. It is the aim of the Chamber to make lobbying fairer and increase transparency and clarity of the entire legislative drafting process. Among other things, we requested in our address that the interest groups participating in the legislative drafting process and their proposals would be clearly stated in legislative drafting. In total, we made four proposals:
1. Introduce a principle according to which the state is required to check and publish in the legislative drafting process whom the interest group participating in the process represents.
2. Non-profit organisations must be obliged to disclose in their annual reports the names of legal entities that are members, or add a link through which it is possible to review the list of members who are legal entities.
3. If an amendment is made in a legal act by a proposal of a certain interest group, it should be highlighted at least in the explanatory memorandum, which interest group made the respective proposal.
4. Increase the obligation to report and transparency of foundations and non-profit organisations with political aims.
These proposals were also introduced at the beginning of April to the anti-corruption special committee of the Parliament. The Ministry of Finance did not support our proposals, but work in the name of improving transparency continues. See about the proposals
Clarifying the procedure for compensating glasses
At the beginning of the year, we gave feedback to the Ministry of Social Affairs in relation to the draft act amending the procedure for compensating glasses. The Chamber was partially satisfied with the amendments, but made a proposal to clarify the draft act so that the employees would not misuse the opportunities created. The clarifications requested by the Chamber were partially realised, but at the same time the wording of the draft act was changed so that the obligation to send a person to eye check is no longer connected to eyesight problems caused by working with monitors, instead, it is important that there are problems with eyesight, not what causes it. In other words, glasses must be compensated irrespective of the actual cause of the problems, it is sufficient if a person works at least half of the working time with a monitor and they need glasses for that. At that, new glasses must be compensated even if the old glasses have faded and working with a monitor is difficult because of that. Read more about the amendments
From 1 April, additional charge to be paid on smart phones and computers
In several of its addresses, the Chamber of Commerce highlighted that the charge is disproportionate and also one of the higher ones in Europe, e.g. the amount of charge in relation to income is more than 5 times higher than in Latvia and almost 4 times as high as in Sweden, 3 times higher than in Germany and almost twice as high as in Finland. We also made a proposal to the Ministry of Justice to decrease the amount of charge to the minimum set out in the Copyright Act, i.e. 3 euros for smart phones and computers and to 0.25 euros for memory cards and memory sticks. Furthermore, we wanted to exempt from the charge TV-sets that can record. Read more on added charges
We were against single-use plastic directive’s tax imposing
By 3 July, Estonia must transpose the Single-use Plastic Directive, which foresees several measures for decreasing the consumption of single-use plastic products. In the opinion of the Chamber of Commerce, awareness among consumers and companies must be increased in order to achieve the goal, but at the same time we are against imposing a tax on single-use plastic products.
The Single-use Plastic Directive includes requirements that Estonia must introduce into its Packaging Act and Waste Act. However, at the same time, the Directive includes provisions where each Member States can decide on their own, which measures to use to decrease the consumption of single-use plastics.
The Chamber of Commerce proposed to the Ministry to delay the transposition of the Directive. One of the reasons for delaying the transposition is the fact that the European Commission has delayed for more than half a year with the issue of very important guidelines. Taking into account Estonian process for legislative drafting, the Chamber does not consider it possible for the Riigikogu to approve the respective draft act in June of this year without excessive hurrying.
The Ministry has not yet introduced the draft act to the stakeholders and most probably, Estonia will transpose the directive later. Read about the Chamber’s positions
Development of the industrial policy
We collected feedback from our members in the industrial sector regarding the biggest concerns and challenges in the perspective of the next 3-5 years. The proposals were made in the fields of labour and education, innovation, taxes and many other topics related to the business environment. We will be using the feedback when communicating with politicians and officials.
European Union Directive does not create more equal salary conditions, but brings higher administrative burden
The Ministry of Social Affairs requested feedback regarding the draft of the European Union Salary Transparency Directive, according to which employers would face several additional obligations, such as developing career rules and reporting obligation for large companies. In its letter, the Chamber highlighted based on feedback from its members, that establishing a directive does not facilitate achieving the desired results, but increases significantly administrative burden for Estonian companies. Read more and see the opinion
Let us know of problems related to business or make your suggestions for improving the business environment. All ideas are welcomed to be sent to juristid[at]koda.ee.