Head of the Estonian Employers Confederation Toomas Tamsar finds that most political parties have understood the seriousness and potential solutions for the labor crisis but are afraid to talk about them.
The reason, Tamsar says, are fears associated with foreigners in society. «People confuse foreign specialists with refugees,» he explains. «However, parties tend to avoid situations where one risks losing voters over pesky labor problems.»
Tamsar believes it is clear Estonia cannot solve this problem on its own, and the only question is which party admits it first.
«Our first self-deception lies in believing this is something that will sort itself out,» he says.
«Let us recall the math problem of filling a swimming pool. We know that the labor pool will lose roughly 120,000 people in 25 years. If we want to maintain the current water level in the pool, we need to try and close or narrow the drainage pipe and open new intake pipes.»
Tamsar says that while the drainage pipe needs to be made narrower, it is impossible to put an end to emigration. «We’ll be lucky if we can maintain the current emigration level,» he believes. «And how do we get more people? Have more children? No one knows how to do that. We also cannot presume the entire problem can be solved through immigration. However, we need to play with all the valves, so the water would not be too hot or too cold.»
Possible solutions according to the employers' confederation include:
- Capacity for work reform, bringing people with reduced capacity for work back to the labor market. This would yield roughly 10,000 people.
- Pension reform by raising the retirement age. This would provide 15,000-20,000 people.
- Cutting the number of public sector workers. The public sector covers 21 percent of all employment. This should be cut by 20,000 or better yet 30,000 people.
- Labor migration. Migration policy should be based on the needs of the economy and labor market on the one hand and society’s capacity for integration on the other.
- Abolition of the migration quota for specialists (paid more than the national average salary) to favor working in Estonia.
- Development of e-residency. To find qualified labor among e-residents, a special labor exchange could be created – an online environment that connects employers’ demand for qualified labor with e-residents interested in moving to and working in Estonia.
- Boosting birthrate. An extremely long-term measure – it will take at least 30 years to boost the number of births and for those children to reach the working age.