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Study visit to the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia

During the study visit to the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia within the project “Latvia: Developing a Comprehensive Active Ageing Strategy for Longer and Better Working Lives”, representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia, and Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund and Estonian Social Insurance Board representatives introduced with the active ageing situation in Estonia concerning employment and social protection issues.

Deputy Secretary General for Social Policy of the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia Rait Kuuse
introduced with the social policy in Estonia, focusing on key issues - the Child protection act, workability reform, sustainability of the pension system, deinstitutionalization of specialized care system and development of minimum standard for social services system.

Representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia Siiri Aulik
gave a presentation on a  structure of the ministry, emphasizing that it is the leading state administration’s institution in such areas as labour, health and social policy, as well that it has two ministers – Minister responsible for health and employment and Minister for Social Welfare.
Regarding active ageing strategy 2013 – 2020 it was emphasized that the goal is to create an age-friendly environment and ensure the quality of life and equal treatment of older persons aged 50+.
 
Social activity, life-long learning, health care and labour market activity are the main areas of the active ageing strategy. In order to ensure a more comprehensive approach it is planned to include the active ageing strategy in the Social protection, inclusion and equal opportunity development plan for 2013 – 2016.

Representative of the Unemployment Insurance Fund of Estonia (hereinafter - fund) Pille Liimal
introduced with the fund emphasizing that it is an independent state body with tripartite management composed of representatives from public authorities, social partners and employers. Since 2009 this fund performs functions of the public employment service and currently it has 26 employment offices and about 30 000 clients.

Fund:
•    provides job mediation and counselling services;
•    implements diverse measures in accordance with the individual needs of the unemployed;
•    establishes cooperation with employers;
•    provides financial support;
•    establishes cooperation with local governments;
•    develops digital administration;
•    measures and analyses the results.

In terms of financial support to the fund covers the following benefits:
  • unemployment allowance paid to unemployed who have not made social security contributions;
  • unemployment insurance benefit paid to the unemployed, depending on their social contributions;
  • redundancy benefit, paid for up to 3 months, depending on their length of service, the first month is covered by employers, but the second and third month’s costs - by the fund;
  • insolvency benefit is covered if the employer is unable to meet its obligations to employees, the benefit has certain limits.

Since the fund focuses on individual needs of its clients, the large emphasis is put on client consultations, when job search process and future plans are discussed. The fund does not provide special assistance to elderly population group, however individual support are provided instead. The fund is considering providing training targeted to elderly population, but it is planned that the fund will cover 30% of the costs, the rest will be covered by the employer.
 
At the same time Estonia has approved the workability reform, which aims to promote the economic activity of people with decreased work capacity and disability. According to the health and functional ability assessment people will be divided into three groups – those, who are able to work, partly able to work and unable to work. Depending on the assessment appropriate support and benefits will be provided.

Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund representative Mari Vali presented the planned ESF programs for the planning period from 2014 to 2020. Three ESF programmes are planned to be implemented after 2015 - career counselling (total budget of 5.2 million EUR), enhancing employment opportunities (total budget of 24.6 million EUR) and labour market services for disability reform clients (total budget of 142.6 million EUR).

  • Career counselling will include career advice (also in e-environment) to clients and career counselling quality improvement (training of personnel, methods, materials, publicity).
  • Enhancing employment opportunities increase includes the following:
  • Support for reducing youth unemployment and preventive measures that include conducting workshops in schools on labour market issues involving young unemployed people without any professional or high education and without work experience in the "My First Job" programme, as well as the implementation of subsidized employment and training.
  • Support for pension age target group that includes implementation of training at the employer, courses, job application and self-employment support.
  • Encouraging the mobility program under which the unemployed who have been registered as unemployed for at least 3 months, will receive financial support for transportation costs to work locations that are at least 30 km away during 6 month period.
  • Labour market services for disability reform clients, such as mobility aid, rehabilitation services, job security for people with disabilities, psychological and psychotherapeutic counselling. Employers will also receive new services under this reform, such as advice on working with people with disabilities, personnel training and consulting.

Estonian Social Insurance Service Representative Merili Laansoo presented an implemented project that offered individualized support to persons with multiple problems (long-term unemployment, economic and social problems, disability, etc.). This project was started in 2012 with an aim of protecting socially vulnerable groups in the labour market, as well as supporting their continued employment. This programme also supports municipal social workers that are dealing with difficult situations.
 
Within the project five regional coordinators work in cooperation with local social workers, various service providers (psychologists, debt counsellors, etc.), employment service, family members, etc., and provide appropriate advice and services according to individual needs. Initially, the client turns to a social worker, which in case of necessity contacts the regional coordinator. During individual consultations regional coordinator assesses customer’s needs, determines objectives and provides necessary services. Service providers, which are working with clients, provide their feedback on progress. If necessary cooperation of all the involved parties are organised.  The results are evaluated by the regional coordinator, but this process could be more standardized.
 
So far, 3202 customers have participated in the project, and 42.9% have found work or retained their existing jobs upon programme completion. Statistical portrait shows that the majority of customers have insufficient level of education and most are unemployed. However, only a small proportion (26 %) of all clients who are unemployed, are registered with the employment service agency.

Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs spokeswoman Anu Tooduu presented the Estonian labour market situation and the outcomes of 2012 survey entitled "Elderly in Estonian Labour Market” that covered areas such as health, education and skills, attitudes towards older workers and age discrimination. With regard to the health aspects, older workers have expressed the desire for a smaller workload, workplace adaptations and flexible working time, including part-time work. Starting from January 1st, 2015, workplace adjustments will be provided not only to people with disabilities, but also to elderly workers if necessary. Life-long learning was also emphasized in this survey. Survey participants noted that training methods should vary for different age groups.
 
According to the answers given by employers within the framework of the survey, the vast majority have not thought about the aging workforce and the actualization of this problem in the coming years. In order to change this situation, employers are invited to attend active ageing seminars, which cover possible actions and examples of good practice in Estonia.

Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs spokeswoman Anni Katkosild gave a presentation on occupational health and safety issues in Estonia. Registered work accidents show that among men the greatest number of work accidents happens at the age of 25-34 years, while among women - at about 50 years of age. Similarly to Latvia, Estonia has a relatively high number of accidents with fatal consequences. Thus, ESF programme "Improving the quality of working life, 2009- 2014" was implemented. This programme is focused on raising awareness and performing research and business risk analysis and cooperation with the labour inspectorate.
As well portal that summarizes reliable and verified information on industrial relations and working environment was recently created. Portal has a possibility of online risk assessment, which is essential to support micro and small enterprises on the assessment of the work environment and its impact on the health of workers.
 

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