In her political statement, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas described the crisis situation that had developed in the country in connection with the expanding spread of coronavirus, and the measures taken by the Government
“The situation with coronavirus in Estonia is extremely critical again. Like probably all people in Estonia, I also hoped that we would not find ourselves in this situation again. Like most people, we did everything to put the worst behind us, but unfortunately that did not happen.”
Kallas gave an overview of the situation over the last month. The number of unvaccinated people who have died of coronavirus in Estonia is nearly five times higher than the number of vaccinated people who have died. The number of unvaccinated people who have been hospitalised due to coronavirus in Estonia is nearly 2.5 times higher than the number of vaccinated people who have been hospitalised. The number of unvaccinated people who have become ill with coronavirus in Estonia is nearly 2.5 times higher than the number of vaccinated people who have become ill.
“Our duty is to treat all people who become seriously ill, and unfortunately people who become seriously ill with this disease need hospitalisation and respiratory support. COVID is a contagious disease and therefore such patients must be separated from others. If increasingly more COVID patients arrive in hospitals, other specialist wards need to be closed,” Prime Minister explained. She underlined that the choices were hard – first, elective operations, such as hip and joint surgery are cancelled, and heart operations are postponed as well. People do not choose their illnesses, and these people need treatment. “People can protect themselves against COVID by getting vaccinated so they will not become seriously ill and will not be hospitalised,” Kallas said.
Prime Minister emphasised that the Estonian medical system was undergoing a difficult time, and it needed support and the possibility to work without being disturbed. “The Riigikogu has a general consensus for example in national defence issues: none of us is calling into question that we need membership in NATO and defence investments to safeguard our independence. I ask us to find a similar consensus in the issue of supporting the medical system. So that none of us would demonise, attack or threaten the medical professionals who are doing their utmost in protecting the health of the people of Estonia. I wish you every strength, doctors and nurses of Estonia,” Kallas said.
Prime Minister explained that, although around one third of the Estonian people were unvaccinated, such people accounted for around two thirds of the people hospitalised with symptomatic COVID and for three quarters of those in COVID intensive care units today. “Therefore it is necessary to restrict the movement of unvaccinated people so that they do not become ill and do not need to be hospitalised, because otherwise the whole society will suffer. The Constitution says explicitly that no right is absolute. Fundamental rights can be restricted if this is necessary to protect others and to contain the spread of a contagious disease, and this is exactly the case at the moment,” Kallas explained.
Prime Minister said that, from today, several new control measures had entered into force that aimed to reduce the burden on the hospital network. From today, only vaccinated people and adults who have recovered can participate in controlled activities. This change concerns sports, exercise, youth work, hobby activities and education, continuing education and refresher training. From now on, people who are unvaccinated or have not developed natural immunity against the disease may also not participate in sports competitions or sports and exercise events, go to public saunas, spas, pools, water parks or swimming halls, conferences, theatre, concerts or cinema, take part in entertainment services, go to museums or exhibitions or spend time in catering facilities. They will not be admitted to public meetings that take place indoors, or outside in restricted areas.
Access of unvaccinated people to controlled events and activities is restricted because they have a very high risk of getting an infection, and once infected they spread the virus more than people with immune protection. They are also at a higher risk of severe illness and of hospitalisation.
In work relations, the risk analysis by the employer will continue to be the basis for the requirements for employment. Everyone who can work from home should do so. Especially in areas where the infection is widespread.
A stricter obligation to wear a face mask is in place, too. It is not permitted to allow people without face masks to sales and servicing areas. It is also strictly advisable for vaccinated and recovered people as well as children aged 12 and over to wear protective face masks at controlled events, for example in theatre and cinema and at concerts. It is required to wear a protective mask, preferably a medical mask, and wearing a mask can no longer be replaced by covering one’s mouth and nose with a scarf or collar. This is necessary because the Delta variant of coronavirus is significantly more contagious than the variants that were spreading at the beginning of the pandemic. These measures will be in force until 10 January at least.
Prime Minister emphasised that our aim was to keep society as open as possible and to help hospitals to help everyone, not just COVID patients. “If your decision not to get vaccinated is your final choice, then please take special care of yourself and avoid all contacts until the spread of the virus takes a downward trend again. Yes, we would like to be like the Nordic countries, which have lifted most of the restrictions by today, but their vaccination level is very high, especially among the elderly, and therefore they can take bolder steps. Paradoxically we have ‘freedom fighters’ who prevent the whole society from moving towards full opening,” Kallas noted.
During the debate, representatives of factions Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), Jaanus Karilaid (Centre Party), Mart Helme (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Jürgen Ligi (Reform Party) and Helmen Kütt (Social Democratic Party) and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas took the floor.
The Riigikogu concluded the second reading of a Bill
The Bill on Amendments to the Collective Agreements Act and Other Acts (383 UA), which the President of the Republic has refused to proclaim, intends to bring the regulation of extending a term or condition of a collective agreement into compliance with the freedom of enterprise which is protected by the Constitution, at the same time ensuring a capacity for social partnership and collective involvement. The regulation of extension concerns collective agreements that are entered into between employers and federations or confederations of trade unions.
Under the Act, in Estonia, a federation of trade unions or a trade union in the same area of activity whose members constitute 15 per cent of the employees in the area of activity or which has at least 500 members as one party and the employers who provide employment to at least 40 per cent of the employees in the relevant area of activity as the other party may agree on the extension of a term or condition of a collective agreement.
The compensations to officials who are unlawfully released from service also increase. More specifically, this concerns an official who is pregnant, who has the right to pregnancy and maternity leave, is raising a child under seven years of age or who has been elected a representative of officials and who is released from service unlawfully. Until now, the amount of the compensation has been six months’ average remuneration, but according to an amendment, the employer will pay compensation to the extent of the 12 months’ average remuneration of the employee to the employee.
The third major amendment concerns trustees and, once the Act enters into force, if there are two or more trustees, the employer will have to enable all trustees to perform the duties of trustee during the working time to the extent of the time prescribed for at least two trustees.
With the amendments, among other things, the duration of the payment of the unemployment insurance benefit and the unemployment allowance will be temporarily extended by 60 calendar days in the case when the registered unemployment rate rises above 8.5 per cent in Estonia.
The Riigikogu passed the Act on 13 September, but the President of the Republic has decided to not to proclaim the Act on account of breach of the rules of procedure.
Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab gave an overview of the civil service report of 2020
Civil service was able to respond flexibility in the emergency situation and to adapt to new tasks. At the cross-agency level, mutual assistance was provided and new forms and ways of work were implemented. With the influence of COVID-19, remote working and flexibility in the organisation of work have become more widespread. State agencies are increasingly employing employees under permanent remote working agreement that gives an advantage in the recruitment of specialists who do not live in Tallinn. Flexibility is also increased by the opportunities to work remotely temporarily that are being established or have already been established at state service bureaus. The commitment of civil servants has also increased compared to 2018. In 2020, civil service accounted for 2.9 per cent of the working-age population (aged 15–74) in Estonia, which has stayed at a similar level over the years. 28,371 civil servants worked in civil service in 2020: 22,834 in national authorities and 5 537 in local government agencies.
Over the year, civil service increased by 743 servants, that is, 2.7 per cent: it increased by 775 servants (+3.5 per cent) in national authorities, and decreased by 32 servants (-0.6 per cent) in local government agencies. Special servants accounted for 37 per cent of civil service, that is, 10,416 servants. Their number increased by 2.6 per cent (+269). The number of civil servants grew significantly in the Defence Forces. The establishment of the Education and Youth Board also influenced the increase in the number of civil servants, but not on account of an increase in the number of servants, but the transfer of the employees (+396) of the merged agencies (Foundation Innove, Archimedes Foundation, the Information Technology Foundation for Education and the Estonian Youth Work Centre) to civil service.
The certain increase in the number of civil servants in the State Shared Service Centre was also influenced by this rearrangement. The age, gender, education and ethnic composition of civil servants has been stable over the years. The average age of civil service servants was 43.6 years. There are slightly more women than men among civil servants, but there are more men in special services. The proportion of servants with higher education was 62 per cent, while the proportion of employees with higher education among all the employed in Estonia is 43 per cent.
3732 recruitments were carried out in civil service. The overall number of recruitments decreased by 462 recruitments compared to 2019. The main reason for the decreased recruitments was the COVID-19 situation, due to which the voluntary staff turnover decreased and the recruitment of new staff was suspended in many agencies during the emergency situation and the following period. One fifth of recruitments failed, as was the case last year. The aggregate voluntary turnover remains below the critical turnover rate (6 per cent in national authorities and 8 per cent in local government agencies). Voluntary turnover in national authorities and local government agencies fell by a few percentage points. The main reason for the decrease in voluntary turnover was the situation due to COVID 19. Voluntary turnover continues to be a problem in prisons (18.6 per cent).
Organisational rearrangements were made in civil service. The short-term goals of governance are more effective and efficient performance of the state tasks, higher-quality provision of public services, more flexible and less bureaucratic organisation of work in the government sector and a relative decrease in the government sector expenditure. One way to achieve this aim is the reorganisation of state agencies and other central government structures, and sectoral consolidations. When state agencies are merged, the change is often expected to bring cost saving, but this is not achieved in the first year and focusing on this may have a negative effect on the services and clients of the agencies. The merger of agencies is above all intended to achieve better synergy in the sector, pooling of competences and better quality of services. Understandably, such changes also affect the staff, including turnover and the indicators of the number of staff between various subsectors. 2020 was an unusual year when important rearrangements were made in eight state agencies and three foundations.
The sitting ended at 6.31 p.m.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu.
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