Estonia's new union leader sees services sector as biggest challenge

Salajasel hääletusel ametisse valitud Peep Peterson sai võidu järel suudluse suhtekorraldajast elukaaslaselt Helena Loorentsilt.

PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

The services sector remains the biggest challenge in the expansion of trade unions into sectors without union protection, the new leader of the Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL) says.

"We have two unions that deal with the services sector, but this field of work is just so big it's not an easy job," Peep Peterson who was elected chairman of EAKL last week told BNS in an interview.

All laws relating to collective agreements are included in the government's reform program and a number of meetings have taken place at which all topics have been discussed separately, the union leader said. "There are several serious disagreements. But in order to have a good position at talks we ourselves need to study law in some degree, look at European practices, the direction in which collective agreements are currently going in Europe, what's the economic benefit therefrom, and then on the basis of this make our own proposals.

"A serious concern is that everybody understands what a strike is, but it's difficult to explain what a collective agreement is," the union leader said. "If at present only a third of people are protected by some kind of collective agreement, it's hard to make clear to the rest what this stands for."

Peterson also singled out developments in the financial sector saying a union organization active in If P&C Insurance could expand to other insurance companies and banks.

The Transport and Road Workers Trade Union which Peterson headed before being elected leader of EAKL has received signals that the union could expand into the taxi business, he said. Union representatives are scheduled to meet with cab drivers on Friday.

Talks also are underway for renewing the pay agreement of the bus segment. In the last few years the segment has seen an influx of new and smaller businesses where work and pay conditions have not been satisfactorily agreed, Peterson said adding that large bus companies, before going along with pay rise proposals, would rather wait to see whether unions are capable of expanding to the new firms.

Sector-wide collective agreements currently exist in health care, trucking and bus transport. Forestry workers' aim is to achieve the same. Most collective agreements apply to one business, covering around one third of the total workforce, Peterson said.