Employee representatives and trade union

Estonia has four kinds of employee representatives:

  • Trustee of employees – employee chosen to represent the interests of all employees by the employees’ general meeting
  • Trade union – union created by the employees, the main goal of which is to protect the rights of its’ members
  • Working environment representatives – working environment representative and council – members selected by the employees who represent the employees in questions related to occupational health and safety
  • Representatives of employees at community-scale undertakings – employees who have been chosen to represent the entire personnel at the general board.

Trustee of employees

Unlike trade unions, trustees of employees represent the interests of all employees and must take them into consideration. The main duty of the trustee is to be the so-called intermediary between the employer and the employees.

The trustee of employees represents employees in matters of occupational health, occupational safety, and employment relationships. Their duties, rights, and obligations are much broader than those of, for example, a working environment representative.

The trustee needs to have the latest information about the plans and activities of the company and they are obligated to mediate information from the employer to the employees and vice versa. The trustee of employees can also be the counsellor and conciliator in disputes with the employer.

The trustee of employees has the right to familiarise themselves with working conditions, including organisation of work, without restrictions, obtain information from the employer that is necessary to fulfil their duties, and consult the employer on the subject. They can also hold negotiations with the employer about entering into a collective agreement if the employer does not have a trade union or if no employees are part of a trade union.

Both trustees of employees and trustees of trade unions can represent the interests of employees at the workplace.

Trade union

The purpose of a trade union is to represent and protect occupational, service-related, professional, economic and social rights and interests of the employees. Membership or non-membership in a trade union is voluntary and the rights of a person may not be restricted for the membership or non-membership in a trade union.

A trade union may be established by at least five employees. An established trade union shall be registered in the register of trade unions of location as the legal capacity of a trade union arises upon the entry in the register and expires upon the deletion from the register. Membership or non-membership of a trade union shall not be the reason for the termination of the employment contract with an employee. The restriction for the membership of a trade union shall be imposed on members of the Defence Forces who are in active service of the armed forces.

A federation of trade unions may be established by at least five trade unions and the central federation of trade unions may be established by at least five national trade unions or federations of trade unions.

The competence of trade unions shall include:

  • conclusion of the contracts related to occupational, service-related and the social field with the employers, local government bodies and the Government of the Republic;
  • submission of proposals to draft legislation on the issues concerning the rights and interests of employees;
  • submission of proposals for the amendment and alteration of legislation governing occupational and social issues;
  • cooperation with an employer for the improvement of the situation of occupational health and safety;
  • counselling and informing employees;
  • representation and protection of own members in labour dispute resolution bodies and relations with an employer.

Information about employees’ unions in Estonia can be found on the Estonian Trade Union Confederation web site.

Working environment representatives

Working environment representative is the representative of employees in questions related to the working environment. The representative monitors the state of the workplace from the employees’ perspective and is the employer’s cooperation partner in improving the working environment; for instance, by gathering the employees’ suggestions and assisting in choosing the personal protective equipment.

The employer must organize a general meeting of employees for choosing the working environment representative and enable all employees to attend. The possibility to select a representative must be provided in each company, its’ branch or shift employing over 10 employees.

The authorizations of the working environment representative are valid for up to 4 years. The employees’ general meeting can call the representative back from the council.

Working environment council is a working group formed in larger companies for solving the company’s occupational health and safety issues in cooperation with the employees and the employer. The council is formed in companies with 50 or more employees and the council consists of an equal number of employer and employee representatives.

The number of the council members depends on the company and is up to the employer to decide; at the minimum, the council must have 4 members (meaning 2 employer and 2 employee representatives).

The council members are elected for 4 years. Employee representatives can be called back from the council by the employees’ general meeting.

Community-Scale representatives

International labour rights have taken a stand that, in certain cases, it is grounded to form an employees’ representation institution for state-level activities. This situation occurs if the employees of one company work in different European Union countries, thus, cooperation between the domestic employee representatives does not suffice to represent and protect their joint interests.

Community-scale employee representatives are mandatory for European Union companies in the following cases:

  • the employer is a community-scale employer or group of employers.
  • the employer is a European company or European co-partnership.

Employees of a community-scale employer or group of employers are entitled to select a working council from among themselves, the task of which is to represent and protect the rights of all employees at the general board.

In the case of a European company or co-partnership, the organ representing the employees is the representative body, the task of which is to represent and protect the interests of all employees at the general board.

Last amended: 09-03-2017 00:00 | Compiled by: portal Tööelu, Estonian Trade Union Confederation