Work ability reform brings good changes!

June 02, 2016

Within the framework of Positive Attitude Development Project a next market meeting was organized on the 16th of October 2015 to discuss with the representatives of different sectors, what are the possibilities of people with special needs to participate in the labor market and in what way are the dominating stigmas affecting the promoting of employment capacity. Estonian Social Defence Minister Andres Tsahkna and the equal treatment expert from Estonian Human Rights Center Kelly Grossthal were also participating.

Simone Epro (Social worker in Tartu Mental Health Care Center): The topic of our discussion round is: “What are the possibilities for the young people with special needs to participate in the labor market and how the dominating stigmas affect the promoting of employment capacity?” At first I will give word to our Social Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna.

Margus Tsahkna (Social Defence Minister of the Republic of Estonia): Hello! It is a very broad topic. When we talk about labor market and people with special needs, Work Ability Reform is on its way, the purpose of which is to give the opportunity and to involve more people with special needs to the labor market. We have been dealing with many questions, but I am very critical towards the Work Ability Reform. The plans may look fine on paper, but we can see what is really going on – the purpose of this Reform is to change this attitude. At the moment, the person with special needs will get disability pension, but the philosophy is that in designating the incapacity to work, it will be financially compensated but the money is very little and doesn’t help much. In addition, when a person stays passive and tries to get by only counting on his relatives and the social system, then he will continue to stay this way. We have over 100 000 of these people. At the same time more and more people are involved in society and one of the aims is also to involve people with special needs on the labor market. I am not so blue-eyed and naïve – it is not possible to get all these people to the labor market. If we get more people on the labor market, it is already a good result. The aim of the reform could be to look through this overall attitude and social defence side and we should be able to get very individual. To evaluate what abilities and chances the specific person has to be an active member of society and what kind of support and help he needs.

This is a vast topic that can roughly be divided into two – special needs that can be compensated with assistive equipment or service, and others that concern mental health problems. Coming back to the labor market issue – what are the stamp ideas of entrepreneurs and what is feared? What tasks does the employer have? An entrepreneur’s task is to produce something or offer a service to make profit. If he has a good idea and a possibility to offer work, he needs the work to be done most efficiently. At the moment we see more people leaving the labor market than joining – here is a challenge to Estonia, we have no work force. There are jobs to offer, but enterprises are looking for qualified work force. If we can manage to create a system together with the State, municipality and third sector, where a person’s abilities are evaluated individually, then we will understand what he needs. We will inquire how he moves around at home; does he need a personal helper; how to lessen the burden of his family and caretakers; does he have some sort of role in the society. Ideally he has a flexible part-time job. If we help to adjust the work place respectively and compensate this, then we might be able to make some people more active or help them to contribute more to the society. If an additional value comes out of this, it is a good result that contributes even more, but I am rather realistic. It would be a huge help if we managed to further involve certain groups in society. A great achievement would be to lessen their relatives’ burden in a way that they themselves would get better opportunities for fulfillment. I don’t think it is enough to make television campaigns and advertisements to change stamps and prejudices, it is necessary to show what the reality is here with practical life. Fortunately there are enterprises in Estonia who due to a sense of mission or work specifics, are involving more and more people with special needs. As far as I have met them – they are rather happy, as those people who have already entered the labor market, are often more loyal and are using the opportunity.

Coming back to mental health for a second, employers have a fear that at some point people with mental health problems are controllable and normal, but the employer is not able to plan with the downfalls. Entrepreneurs have mentioned this and that’s what makes them careful. Concrete solutions should be found here. Thinking of the mental health of Estonian people, it is not a question about congenital diseases, but even ordinary people break down under their own daily distress. When will we notice the person next to us who has depression or suffers from anxiety attacks? All this can lead the person away from society and he is unable to work any more – these symptoms should be noticed untimely and when intervened, would get relief or treatment. This is a complex matter.

As a conclusion to the introduction I would say that every person in Estonia is important and that not only as a slogan. Yes, I have been a bad crocodile who has dealt with state budget omissions in financial commission and looking over the state resources, but the person is still of main importance in Estonia – really. This is the dimension of Estonian fiscality and sustainability and the worst thing is that we know those numbers most accurately. Those numbers are on the table and no politician wants to talk about them. If you have a certain problem that you can solve and you report this to the electors, it is all good and they applaud you. But these are processes that take more time and every reform creates fear – changes are always unpredictable. We were able to make the implementation of the Work Ability Reform smoother, we got an extra half year to the evaluation system which concerns everyone personally and we will start with the first services in January 2016. Not all people will go to the system at once, but it will be gradual – questions will certainly arise.

Simone Epro (social worker in Tartu Mental Health Care Center): I will bring out some Praxis surveys. In 2014 a survey was carried out to map the situation of young people with disabilities on the labor market. By the end of July, a bit more than 105 000 people between the age of 15-64 had been acknowledged loss of work ability due to health. Among young people there is an average of those engaged in work

Kelly Grossthal (equal treatment expert in Estonian Human Rights Center): I was invited here since I coordinate the network of Estonian enterprises called Diversity Agreement. So far 60 enterprises and some public sector organizations as The Unemployment Office and Estonian National Social Insurance Board, have joined. The survey subscribed by the Ministry of Social Affairs was necessary. The results of the survey are interesting – young people with special needs want to go to work and secondly, enterprises that have experience with people with special needs, are positively minded to hire them also in the future. They have no misconceptions about what is a mental disability. Those who had never hired, had misconceptions but the ones who wouldn’t want it in principle were in minority.

Simone Epro (social worker in Tartu Mental Health Care Center): The topic has moved to employers an enterprises. We have some entrepreneurs here – Ivo Remmelg, what is your experience with people with special needs and with hiring them?

Ivo Remmelg (Telegrupp LTD, Chairman of the Board):
Currently there is one person with a special need working for us – he is visually impaired. His special need is not huge and he can manage in a usual environment. As for hiring, as an employer, I don’t distinguish people by their race or anything else. For me it is important that the job needs to be done and for doing it I will find optimally the best worker for the smallest salary. If I hire someone with a salary too high, or a person who only does the fifth of the job for his salary, then I will go bankrupt. Keeping sustainability in mind, these are the only choices I can make.

Annika Amenberg (Helpific co-founder): I also have experience with people with special needs as an employer. Young people with special needs have very often grown up in a way that they were treated as people with special needs and somehow not too much attention was paid if some things didn’t work out, it was still considered well done and no one cared. This way we actually lower their competitiveness and we shouldn’t do that. We should treat them as equal from the very beginning and offer them equal opportunities, but we can’t give them trade-offs in places where they are equal with the others. This will only hurt them in the future.

Tiia Orav (Tartu Department Store, human resource specialist): There is not much to add here. We have contributed partially to the employment of disabled people and there are three people with a mental disability working for us. It is not possible to sign a contract for all the positions and they are trolley-locators. In the summer we were celebrating a ten-year work anniversary of one of the trolley-locators. I can say that we have no bad words to say why to fear them. They are not doing anything bad, they are polite and loyal. For further thinking is that as an employer, I do not know the person’s diagnosis and I can’t exactly prevent dangers and risks. Currently there are no problems and in cooperation with NGO “Independent Life”, hiring is possible. As an employer, I would like to set the conditions more precisely in the beginning – talk about the rules and instructions so that it wouldn’t happen during the work time. I am very positive and glad that there are people with disabilities in our team. It is nice to see how they are looked after in the Food World.

Merlin Niinemägi (Foundation Maarja Village activity supervisor and member of the project team of “Developing protected work service in South-Estonia”): We have quite a long experience with helping people with special needs to get work. Our main goal are people with mental disabilities who are very vulnerable. We have carried out a pilot project this year “Developing protected work service in South-Estonia” and hopefully in the near future a service description to a new service would be released by the Estonian National Social Insurance Board. What we see through our experience is, that us being an intermediate takes off a lot of pressure from the employers. I hire people with special needs with a contract as a service provider and I pay them myself. My team is for example 10 people who can do some kind of work and we have a contract with the employer. He knows that on five days of the week, 5 people from us will come to him to do certain work with a supervisor. If one person can’t come, we can smoothly send another.

Aleksander Nukka (Member of the Board of Tartu County’s Board of Disabled People and Chairman of the Association of Vocationally Diseased):
In society nowadays, an employer can’t hire every disabled person. Employers have a big burden on them. If an accident happens to a person at work – in 2014 there were 4635 employment injuries – then it is catastrophic, because the number of employment injuries is rising every year. How can the employer take the risk? Employers have a strong fear, because there is no vocational disease insurance in Estonia so that they wouldn’t have to be responsible for that disabled person. If I hire a disabled person, I can never be sure what could happen, but the responsibility lies on the employer. So far the State has not been able to find a solution to this. It is not a problem for a big enterprise, but if there is a company with 6 people for example and one of them has an accident, the company will go bankrupt right away. At first we have to give protection to the employer and then start thinking further and hiring people with special needs.

Margus Tsahkna (Social Defence Minister of the Republic of Estonia): I have read this draft and this has to flow together with the Work Ability Reform. The catch here is that an employer is not able to agree who would make the insurance payment and to what extent. Currently we can’t take it from the social tax – one part of it is pension which is already too small and the second part is health care. When this insurance system would be created, who would pay this tax component? Preparations should be made for the time when we would be able to lower the unemployment insurance tax, to establish this percentage from there. This way the tax burden of the work force would stay the same and the entrepreneurs’ problem with high work force taxes would not increase. We have to have an agreement on the Insurance tax. We have this scheduled and the Government is trying to take some steps. This is a right observation.

Annika Amenberg (Helpific co-founder): I would like to comment that in some situations social jobs could be a solution– what does the State think of this?
Margus Tsahkna (Social Defence Minister of the Republic of Estonia): In the following years, we are planning to create a thousand social jobs in the State sector, but some kind of sensibility should remain. Tallinn created social jobs with a huge campaign. We should honestly ask ourselves, what is the purpose of this? The purpose is not to create some revenue in certain cases, but rather involving people. We rather hope that the supported entrepreneurship as social entrepreneurship, would evolve. For example, there is the North-Estonian Union for the Blind in Tallinn that has real estate and a specific area of activities – training and involving people. They have a business project that needs to be put into work so that it would be profitable. They now need investment money and this is the place where the State can interfere. This is the best example for the people with special needs. There is a lot of interested people and a market for the service is existing – a lot of aspects here.

Annika Amenberg (Helpific co-founder): So, social entrepreneurship is a topic for the future and this is one of the State’s priorities?
Margus Tsahkna (Social Defence Minister of the Republic of Estonia): Yes, things are moving in a way not only to find an investment. In Social entrepreneurship, taxing and an environment what to create will be looked through – this, as well as participation in state procurements which is very common in many European countries, is not yet sufficiently developed. Norway is always a good example where procurement competitions have a lot of criterions. In Estonia the most important thing is the price and always the cheapest offer will win. We should create other components – to give an advantage to an enterprise, where people with special needs are working.

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