Overview of policy, strategy and programmes in relation to the occupational health and safety of older workers - Estonia

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Initiatives from government/government-affiliated organisations

Occupational health and safety

The Estonian Occupational Health and Safety Strategy 2010-2013 (Töötervishoiu ja tööohutuse strateegia 2010–2013)[1], and its corresponding Plan of Action (Töötervishoiu ja tööohutuse strateegia 2010–2013 tegevuskava) define the development targets of the Estonian working environment for the years 2010-2013, with the aim of improving the quality of working life. The following areas of development have been defined by the Strategy: legislative framework for occupational health and safety; raising awareness on the value of a health-preserving work environment; OSH training; occupational health services as an integral part of general healthcare; emerging risks in the work environment; increasing knowledge-based approaches and administrative capacity in policy making and implementation; scientific knowledge generation in OSH; national and international co-operation[2].

The strategy underlines that, in view of the demographic situation of the country, it is crucial to extend the work ability of people. The strategy states that in order to safeguard the health of workers under the changing conditions of the labour market (especially considering the high employment rate of women above pensionable age), it is important to pay attention to new types of flexibility at the working place (e.g. working from home, flexible working time, use of service contracts etc.).

The Strategy adopts a comprehensive approach to well-being at work, and focuses on the prevention of risks and strengthening of partnership between all structural units dealing with occupational health and safety. The sub-goals of the Strategy are as follows:

  1. To sustain and promote workers health and their ability to work;
  2. To improve the work environment so that it is possible to work without any risk to health; and
  3. To establish management systems and work organisations, which support health and safety at work, promoting positive psycho-social micro-climate at enterprises and creating a presumption for raising productivity of work[3].

Since 2012, the targets of the OSH Strategy have been incorporated into the National Health Development Plan 2009-2020[4]. The Estonian government is therefore not planning to extend the OSH Strategy for the next period. The aim of the National Health Development plan is to increase the average (healthy) life expectancy by 2020, by reducing health risks in the living, learning and working environment. The implementation principles of this priority field are specified in annual Action Plans.

Various short-term projects and activities related to OSH have taken place under the programme: Improvement of the Quality of Worklife 2009-2014, which is managed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and financed under the European Social Fund. Overall, the aim of the activities is to raise awareness on occupational health and to increase the productivity of workers by providing them with guidelines and measures to improve working conditions.

The Labour Inspectorate has recently developed a new web-site (available at: www.tooelu.ee) which brings together information on different activities related to, amongst others, working conditions, work contracts, occupational health and psychological counselling.

Employment

Active labour market policies are not specifically targeting older workers. The general policy of the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund is to promote labour market instruments directed to all workers rather than linking them to the age of the employee.

As part of the general case management approach adopted by the Unemployment Insurance Fund, ‘individual action plans’ are developed by the Insurance Fund for all job-seekers – including older workers. However, people from 55 to legal retirement age are considered to be a vulnerable group and at higher risk of long term unemployment. As a result, additional efforts are made and the individual action plan of these people often contain measures such as work related training, career counselling and job search training. Regarding the latter, an example is the coaching for working life programme, which is a training programme designed to motivate and encourage people to either get a job for the first time or to reintegrate after (long term) absence.

Estonia has also introduced wage subsidies for employers hiring workers who have been registered as unemployed for (at least) a year, but these subsidies are not age-specific[5].

Other labour market measures have been proposed though individual projects financed by the European Social Fund (ESF), such as training and career counselling. Activities to encourage older workers to engage in vocational training are very limited, and generally, the participation rate of 55-64 year olds in life-long learning is much lower compared to other age groups[6]. Lower or outdated skills are however recognised as a major issue that can hinder the employment of older workers.

In 2010, new legislation passed to encourage employers to use more flexible working arrangements. In Estonia, flexible or part time working arrangements are not commonly used and the awareness of workers on opportunities to reduce their working hours is low. Under the new legislation, employers benefit from tax reductions under certain conditions if they create part-time jobs. The measure is not targeted specifically at older worker but could support transition into retirement.

Active ageing

Estonia has recently adopted a general framework for active ageing policy: The Active Ageing Development Plan 2013-2020 (Aktiivsena vananemise arengukava 2013-2020)[7], which was released in 2013. The policy document highlights the general principles to guide policy decisions in fields that are impacted by the ageing population, and aims at mainstreaming awareness of ageing throughout all policy fields. A chapter is dedicated to the working conditions of older workers, which analyses the current situation of older workers from a socio-economic and legal perspective.

The strategy has four objectives:

  • Increasing the involvement of older people in society;
  • Increase participation of older people in vocational training;
  • Increase participation of older worker in the labour market and their satisfaction with their professional life; and
  • Increase healthy life expectancy.

According to the National Reform Programme for the years 2011-2015[8] ‘Estonia 2020’, the Ministry of Social Affairs shall be responsible for promoting measures that ensure the active engagement of older people on the labour market and that promote the overall approach of active ageing. This means that suitable conditions shall be created that will result in a more flexible transition from the period of active employment to retirement (e.g. part-time employment, retraining, easement of professional requirements, etc.). Moreover, the National Reform Programme outlines that “there is a need for special measures to bring older people back to the labour market and support their employment”. The strategy states that the resources necessary to support and promote work ability need to be identified, as well as the means that could keep people active on the labour market. This includes a reform of the current pension system and a review of the favourable conditions for old-age pensions.

Overall, the policy on active ageing acknowledges that the costs associated with the integration of older people into the society are a profitable investment for the society as a whole, and that increasing the number of old-age-pensioners who are capable of working is of particular economic importance. As regards the implementation of the policy, it calls for the state, local governments, the private sector and voluntary organisations to co-operate on developing relevant programmes, and for the state to support research focused on older people.

Initiatives from social partners

The Estonian Trade Union Confederation’s strategy ‘Development Vision 2020’[9] aims at enhancing social justice, well-being and equality in the working environment. No specific initiative related to the employment of older workers has been identified.

Initiatives from other organisations

In 2006, the Estonian Network for Workplace Health Promotion was established and coordinated by the National Institute for Health Development (Tervise Arengu Instituut). Members of the network include a wide range of companies (over 200 in total) from different business fields that have defined ‘health protection’ and ‘ergonomic workplaces’ as a priority area. The network aims to create and adapt workplaces for everyone, including older workers[10].

The non-governmental organisation Taveco organised at the end of September 2013, in Tallin, an EU supported conference themed ‘Is the age 50+ good to be reemployed?’[11]. The discussions involved the possibility to work with flexible working times, workplace rearrangement and adaptations according to the needs of ageing workers, discrimination and stereotyping and best practices promoting the work ability of older workers.

The Praxis Centre for Political Studies has conducted several research projects related to health care and working conditions. Current projects include, for example, ‘Analysis of the sustainability of the health care system (2013-2014)’[12] and ‘Working Conditions in the Public Sector (2013-2014)’[13].

A non-governmental organisation called Uus Tervis[14], is active in organising conferences and training on healthy life and bringing new quality to working conditions by engaging community leaders.

The NGO Ergoest has launched a website on occupational health and ergonomics[15].

References

  1. English summary available at http://osha.europa.eu/en/organisations/Estonia%20OSH%20Strategy%20English%20Summary.pdf. The complete version in Estonian available at http://www.sm.ee/fileadmin/meedia/Dokumendid/Toovaldkond/TAO/TTTO_strateegia_2010-2013.pdf (Accessed October 2014)
  2. About the exact goals and actions for achieving these goals please see http://www.ti.ee/index.php?page=1261& (Accessed October 2014)
  3. EU-OSHA, OSHWIKI, “OSH system at national level – Estonia”, as above
  4. National Health Development Plan 2009-2020, Ministry of Social Affairs, 2008, amended 2012. Available in English at http://pns.dgs.pt/files/2010/03/pnsest.pdf (Accessed October 2014)
  5. European Commission Mutual Learning Programme for Public Employment Services, ‘Peer Public Employment Services Paper Estonia – PES and older workers’, prepared by the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund, 2012
  6. European Employment Observatory, EEO review: Employment policies to promote active ageing: Estonia, 2012. Available at: http://www.eu-employment-observatory.net/resources/reviews/Estonia-EPPAA-Feb2012-final.pdf (Accessed October 2014)
  7. The Active Ageing Development Plan 2013-2020, available at: http://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/eesmargid_ja_tegevused/Sotsiaalhoolekanne/Eakatele/aktiivsena_vananemise_arengukava_2013-2020.pdf (in Estonian) (Accessed October 2014)
  8. ‘Estonia 2020’, available in Estonian at http://valitsus.ee/UserFiles/valitsus/et/riigikantselei/strateegia/_b_konkurentsivoime-kava_b_/_b_eesti-2020-strateegia/Eesti%202020%20(2013%20uuendamine)/EE2020%20tegevuskava.pdf
  9. Development Vision 2020’, available in Estonian at: http://eakl.ee/failid/322b35544f92e44d918af8c3f30dbe35.pdf (Accessed October 2014)
  10. More information available on the National Institute’s website: http://vana.tai.ee/?id=4052 (accessed October 2014)
  11. More information on Taveco website: http://www.taveco.ee/sundmused-view/eha2013/konverentsi-ettekanded/ (Accessed October 2014)
  12. Kruus, P. et al., Ravikindlustuse jätkusuutlikkuse prognoos. More information on the project available at: http://www.praxis.ee/tood/ravikindlustuse-jatkusuutlikkuse-prognoos/ (Accessed October 2014)
  13. Masso, M. et al., Töötingimused ja töösuhted avalikus sektoris. More information on the project available at: http://www.praxis.ee/tood/tootingimused-ja-toosuhted-avalikus-sektoris/ (Accessed October 2014)
  14. Uus Tervis website: http://www.uustervis.ee/ (Accessed October 2014)
  15. Ergoest website: http://www.ergonoomika.ee/ (Accessed October 2014)

Contributors

Palmer