Two interpellations and the first reading of three Bills were on the agenda for the sitting of the Riigikogu.
Members of the Riigikogu Urmas Kruuse, Valdo Randpere, Hele Everaus, Kalle Laanet, Urve Tiidus, Ants Laaneots, Marko Mihkelson, Signe Kivi, Jüri Jaanson, Vilja Toomast, Andrus Seeme, Toomas Kivimägi, Taavi Rõivas and Erkki Keldo had submitted the interpellation concerning the need for foreign labour in the agricultural sector (No. 5) to the Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik on 24 September.
The interpellators referred to the fact that there had been a labour shortage in the Estonian agricultural labour market for some time already. On 13 September, the Minister of the Interior had sent for approval Regulations aiming to distribute the immigration quota on the basis of the reason for applying for a residence permit and the granting of a residence permit. The explanatory memorandum to the draft says that the amendment will take into account the needs of Estonia’s economic development and society, and will ensure effective and targeted management of immigration.
The interpellators asked the Minister of Rural Affairs why the agricultural sector was not among the areas with the greatest need for foreign labour.
Järvik said that that was an important issue. He admitted that the list did not indeed include the agricultural sector. “However, I emphasise that the measures planned by the Ministry of the Interior concern the immigration quota and the issuing of temporary residence permits on the basis of that, and this does not concern seasonal foreign labour,” Järvik said. He explained that aliens who came to Estonia for seasonal jobs did not need temporary residence permits, and the immigration quota did not apply with regard to them; they were registered separately pursuant to the procedure provided therefor. “Thus, the Regulation planned by the Government to determine the priority sectors upon the distribution of the immigration quota and the issuing of temporary residence permits will in no way restrict or hinder the employment of temporary seasonal workers from abroad in the agricultural sector,” Järvik noted.
He explained that the great need for temporary seasonal labour in agriculture was connected in particular with horticulture, fruit and berry cultivation, and vegetables, but also potato cultivation.
Järvik pointed out the official data, according to which approximately 22,000 applications for the registration of short-term employment had been submitted to the Police and Border Guard Board in 2018. 1693 of them had concerned the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sectors, which had been twice more than in 2017. For this year, the Police and Border Guard Board has projected a total of around 30,000 applications for short-time employment to be submitted. The majority of seasonal workers come from Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia and Russia. The fact that the employment of seasonal workers was simplified in 2017 has contributed to the increase. Among other things, the mandatory salary criterion was eliminated, and the maximum permitted stay in the country was extended to nine months.
Järvik emphasised that the problem of the seasonal workers needed by businesses could not be resolved with just unrestricted entry of foreign labour at the expense of social environment, security or national security. “The policy on immigration, including labour migration, has been on the cautious and conservative side in Estonia all along, and I personally support such approach. Nor can it be acceptable to us that foreign labour is brought to Estonia through intermediating and hiring companies who do not pay taxes into the state budget but at the same take huge rake-offs for the intermediation,” the minister explained. In his opinion, farmers could think and act more in order that the problem of the labour needed seasonally could to the greatest extent possible be solved within Estonia, including with the use of the unoccupied labour in the regions of Ida-Viru County and Narva.
The Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology Kert Kingo replied to the interpellation concerning the minister’s official activities (No. 3).
The Riigikogu concluded the first reading of three Bills
The Bill on Amendments to the Weapons Act, the State Fees Act and the Strategic Goods Act (transposition of the Firearms Directive) (62 SE), initiated by the Government, will transpose the relevant EU directive laying down the rules for control of the acquisition and possession of weapons (hereinafter also the Firearms Directive).
The European Commission finds that some of the requirements for firearms need to be amended and specified in light of the terrorist attacks in the EU in recent years. It is also necessary to implement measures to address the misuse of firearms for criminal purposes. The deadline for the transposition of the directive was 14 September 2018.
The requirements of the Firearms Directive have to a large part already been transposed into Estonian law, but the Weapons Act needs to be amended to fully transpose the requirements of the directive. With the major amendments, among other things, weapons will be divided into categories, the regulation concerning magazines will be incorporated into the scope of application of the Act, and restrictions will be set on the handling of certain weapons and magazines.
The classification of weapons into categories under the Firearms Directive will be incorporated in the Weapons Act. Weapons are divided into categories A, B and C based on their dangerousness, but the classification of weapons into categories does not change the current principles of the Act in regard to weapons permitted for civilian purposes, weapons in restricted commerce and weapons prohibited for civilian purposes.
The division of weapons into categories is important particularly in terms of travelling out of Estonia or into Estonia with weapons. The category of the weapon will determine what document will be required when travelling with the weapon.
Compared to the regulation that was in force before, the conditions for travelling with weapons for the purpose of engaging in hunting will change. For example, so far it was possible to travel for hunting with weapons with a European firearms pass in the EU without asking for permission but, in the future, travelling for that purpose on the basis of a firearms pass in the EU under a simplified procedure will be possible only in the case of category C weapons. The right to travel with category B weapons will be subject to a prior authorisation from the destination country each time, and a one-off authorisation from the Police and Border Guard Board will be needed to take a weapon out of Estonia. The requirements for travelling with deactivated weapons in the EU will also change. In the future, it will also be mandatory to apply for the consent of a public authority when travelling temporarily or permanently to another EU Member State with a properly deactivated weapon.
The Bill will amend the Weapons Act by adding a regulation concerning magazines which is lacking so far. It will establish heightened requirements for owning and possessing semi-automatic firearms with large-capacity magazines. Such firearms include pistols with magazines with a capacity exceeding 20 rounds inserted into them, and guns with magazines with a capacity exceeding 10 rounds inserted into them. It will be prohibited to acquire firearms with such magazines for the purpose of self-protection and protection of property.
When determining the purpose of weapons permitted for engaging in shooting sports, a distinction will be made between weapons with large-capacity magazines and weapons with “ordinary”-capacity magazines, and the corresponding requirements for target shooters will be established. In connection with that, the definitions of shooting sports organisation and shooting sports club will be specified, and the requirements for them will be amended.
The requirements for the collection of weapons will also change. Compared to the current Weapons Act, the bases and purposes of the maintenance of collections have been amended in view of the Firearms Directive.
The Bill on Amendments to the Infectious Animal Disease Control Act, the State Fees Act, the Feed Act, the Food Act and the Veterinary Activities Organisation Act (90 SE), initiated by the Government, will bring the Acts into conformity with the EU Regulation on official controls which seeks to establish a harmonised EU framework for the organisation of official controls, and official activities other than official controls, along the entire agri-food chain.
The major amendment is that feed of non-animal origin arriving in Estonia from non-European Union countries will no longer be subject to 100-per cent control at border control posts. Instead, the focus will be on the control of feeds that may pose a higher risk to animal and human health and to the environment. The risk-based approach is implemented in the EU as a whole in the control of the compliance of feed. In the Feed Act, the principle of the funding of official controls and other official activities will be amended. The amendments will provide for the principles for funding the activities similarly to the provisions of the Veterinary Activities Organisation Act and the Food Act that are in force. The current state fee collected for the activities will be replaced by a supervision charge. Such a charging system takes into account the actual costs relating to the activities and enables flexibility in the case of different types of establishments. The powers of authorised veterinarians will be narrowed. Official veterinarians will carry out verification and compliance checks in the future. In the future, authorised veterinarians who have concluded a contract under public law with the Veterinary and Food Board will carry out sampling activities provided for by the National Infectious Animal Disease Control Programme.
The Bill on Amendments to the Land Reform Act and the Act on Acquisition of Land on which Usufruct Has Been Established during Land Reform (87 SE), initiated by the Rural Affairs Committee, will amend the Land Reform Act by adding a provision under which a natural person for whose benefit a usufruct on land has been established will be able to grant a sub-lease of the land to a company owned by them or their spouse or relative. The Bill will establish no restriction to the effect that a usufructuary may grant a use of land to a company if the company is in their or their spouse’s or relative’s sole ownership. Thus, the usufructuary will be entitled to grant a sub-lease of land to a company regardless of the proportions in which the company is owned by them or their spouse or relative. The Bill will amend the Act on Acquisition of Land on which Usufruct Has Been Established during Land Reform by adding a specification to the effect that if a natural person for whose benefit a usufruct on land has been established grants a sub-lease of the land to a company owned by them or their spouse or relative, this will not preclude a later right of redemption.
The sitting ended at 6.18 p.m.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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