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On Thursday, at the deliberation of the matter of significant national importance, the Riigikogu analysed the issues of the work capacity reform and the situation of disabled people.

The Minister of Health and Labour Urmas Kruuse explained in his report that, in the future, a person would receive the whole package of supporting employment, support, services, technical aids, and rehabilitation from one agency, the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund. The Unemployment Insurance Fund will also offer services to employers and bring together job seekers and employers. 180 million euro have been planned for that from European Union funds until 2020.

“We will pay work capacity benefit instead of pension. The idea of the benefit is not to pay a pension only for damage to health, but to prepare the persons who wish to find an employment for working, and staying in the labour market or entering it,” Kruuse said. He called on stopping categorising people as pensioners incapacitated for work and banishing them into dependence on benefits.

In the opinion of the Chairman of the Management Board of the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People Monika Haukanõmm, the weakest link of the reform is the services provided by local governments or the services that will not be received. In her opinion, the Work Capacity Benefit Bill and the Social Welfare Bill and the Labour Market Services and Benefits Bill that are under discussion at the moment are not sufficient for the reform, and therefore time out must be taken.

“This does not mean that the reform must be stopped. The reform is needed,” Haukanõmm said. “Besides the two Bills, it would be necessary to have on the table the legislative acts regulating the quality and availability of the services offered by local governments, a motivation package for employers, and also for example the legislative acts regulating occupational accidents and occupational disease, so that we could actually speak about more Bills than we can do at the moment. A reform does not consist of two Bills.”

In her report, the representative of the appeal of the disabled people Tiia Sihver highlighted the shortcomings in the involvement in the work capacity reform and the sore spots of the area.

“This reform is doomed to fail until it not is ensured that social, support and welfare services for disabled people and the families caring for them are commonly available throughout Estonia; until there are no relevant concessions and stimuli for employers and structural measures for social enterprise; until a proposal for development of education, medical rehabilitation, rehabilitation, technical aids and other important support measures remains without solution, not to speak about the abovementioned cost-benefit analysis and the implementation plan for the reform that has not yet been drafted,” Sihver said.

The Chairman of the Social Affairs Committee Heljo Pikhof gave an overview of the amendments that the Committee has introduced into the Bills concerning the work capacity reform. As examples, Pikhof highlighted the postponement of the entry into force of Acts until 2016, the compensation of the additional costs involved in the work capacity assessment, and the benefit for commuting to work for employees with special needs. There is also a plan to raise the maximum income starting from which the benefit for an employee with partial capacity for work will begin to be reduced. Instead of the 641-euro monthly income, the benefit will be partially reduced starting from the 960-euro salary.

Pikhof said that the Unemployment Insurance Fund will not be able to stop the payment of the work capacity benefit before it is ascertained why the person has not been active in job-seeking. “It will not be done without reason, and I would like to stress that, regardless of whether the person is active in the labour market or not, he or she will receive the health rehabilitation service in any case.”

Pikhof explained that people with partial capacity for work who are either looking for a job or working and who will begin to receive the rehabilitation service through the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund may in the future receive services supporting their capacity for work and improving their health for up to 1500 euro per year instead of today’s 483 euro.

In Pikhof’s opinion, it is impossible to solve all the problems of this area in the course of the work capacity reform. “We urgently need the goodwill of the whole society and an agreement of goodwill that would be cross-governmental and cross-party, giving people with special needs and their representative organisations a security that they are seen, heard and supported.”

The Audit Manager of the Performance Audit Department of the National Audit Office of Estonia Liisi Uder submitted her expert opinion to the Riigikogu in writing.

Marika Tuus-Laul, Margus Tsahkna, Eiki Nestor, Jüri Jaanson, Erki Nool, Jürgen Ligi, Andres Herkel, Imre Sooäär, Liisa-Ly Pakosta, Mihhail Stalnuhhin and Lembit Kaljuvee took the floor during the debate.

Photos of the sitting 

The verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian) 

The Riigikogu Press Service