Employers criticize vacation law

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Jun 13, 2002

Estonia’s Clothing and Textile Association has complained to the Social Affairs Ministry about a law that allows employees with young children the right to take their vacation time whenever it best suits them.The association said the law, which came into effect on Jan. 1, was too costly for employers and asked the ministry to amend it so that employers have to honor specific, time-sensitive vacation requests only if it is deemed not detrimental to production and to be entitled to compensation of expenses if vacation at a certain time cannot be avoided.

The law, which was changed last year, says both men and women with children up to age 7 have the right to demand vacation at any time and parents with children between 7 and 10 may do so during their kids’ school vacations.

Sigrid Tappo, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Social Affairs, said the main reason for the changes was to enable parents to spend more time with their children and to supervise them during school vacations.

“The number of accidents with children tends to be higher during the school vacations,” she said.

But Maie Vader, acting head of the Clothing and Textile Association, toldsaid the association complained about the law after several employees of textile firm Ilves-Extra opted to invoke their rights to take vacation together at an inopportune time for the company.

Of 453 employees, 52 are currently out on vacation and an additional 70 have young children and could all demand vacation during school breaks, she said.

“The firm has to give [vacation time] to them, it does not have a choice,” she said. have to give it (the vacation) to them; they don’t have a choice,” said Vader.

If the latter all decide to go on a vacation before or after the collective school break, it would cost the firm up to 420,000 kroons ($24,700).

“Some employees wanted to take this opportunity, but we managed to convince them not to,” said Arvo Kivikas, head of the council of Ilves-Extra.

“We would have been forced to cover their extra vacation in full amount.”

Vader said that the bill had a negative effect on the competitiveness of parents of young children on the labor market, since employers might no prefer hiring parents with older kids.

Other textile firms are also worried. Enn Lehtmets, marketing director at Marat, said the firm would not be able to withstand mass vacations.

“We’d have to find a way to afford it because the law has to be followed, but we would be in serious trouble if there were too many applicants [demanding vacation time],” he said. “They should have asked for the opinions of the companies actually facing these problems when working out the bill.”

Confectionery company Kalev is trying to deal with the new law by offering parents their choice of vacation time at any time other than during summer school vacation.

It also offers to rearrange job responsibilities and, sometimes, working hours, for those parents who do have young children out of school in the summer months.

Kalev spokeswoman Ruth Roht said few employees have demanded vacation time during school breaks so far, but said the law does present certain problems because some employees might try to get two full months of vacation instead of the normal one allowed, thus wreaking havoc in production.
Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/6525/

First international Estonian bond issue to start

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Jun 06, 2002

Estonia will for the first time issue international government bonds worth 100 million euros ($94.34 million) and with a maturity of five years at the end of June.

The issue to European inves-tors will provide a benchmark for Estonian banks, businesses and municipalities in assessing interest rates when they borrow on international markets, said Mar-gus Uudam, deputy state secretary at the Ministry of Finance.

“It provides a good benchmark and helps the government cut spending on paying interest,” said Uudam.

The conditions of the issue will be introduced to European inves-tors at a road show which visits London on June 11 and Frankfurt on June 12. Offers can be made until around June 20.

The final interest rate payable by Estonia will be settled during the road show when interested buyers have announced their offers.

The issue is being handled by Credit Suisse First Boston, which will receive up to 0.2 percent of the total volume of the issue.

The Estonian government will spend the money from the issue mainly on refinancing loans taken from development banks and on a new NATO compatible air surveillance radar, said Uudam.

Allan Marnot, head of Hansapank’s fixed income and derivatives department, estimated the annual interest payable might be between 5.17 percent and 5.35 percent. Estonian legislation stipulates that it may not exceed 6 percent.

“Estonia’s credit conditions are as good as those of the best Central European countries such as the Czech Republic and Hungary,” said Marnot, adding that demand for the bonds was likely to be strong.

Although the issue is likely to be a success, nothing is certain, cautioned Marton.

“It may sometimes turn out just the opposite. Hansapank for example had an experience in 1998, when during a meeting with investors news broke out that Russia was not paying its debts.”

Some government members have previously opposed issuing government bonds, seeing such a move as damaging to Estonia’s reputation for fiscal prudence.

But Uudam dismissed such fears. “Estonia has always had the opportunity to borrow money from international markets. There is a certain political commitment not to let the state budget fall into deficit and keep a low state burden.”

Marnot also downplayed any danger to Estonia’s reputation. “Borrowing money from international capital markets is not more risky than borrowing from such international development banks as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or the World Bank,” he said.

“A state bond issue would simplify the process,” said Marnot.

Lithuania has conducted eight government bond issues in U.S. dollars, Deutsche marks and euros. Estonian companies and banks have also issued bonds on international markets.
Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/6477/

City scandals

Jüri Mõis

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Jun 06, 2002

Juri Mois is a man with wide horizons. He has led Estonia’s biggest commercial bank, Hansapank, and then Estonia’s biggest city, Tallinn. Interview by Kairi Kurm.

Juri Mois was one of the founders of Hansapank and served on the board until Swedish investor Swedbank replaced him with its own representative in 1999. He shifted to politics and was interior minister for a short time in 2000, until he was offered the job of Tallinn mayor.

Mois has been described as a wandering soul by some officials, someone who walks a different path. He was committed to cutting red tape in government, which didn’t make him friends. He survived 20 months and four no-confidence votes in the post until he eventually stepped down in June 2001.

But Mois, a member of the rightwing Pro Patria Union, has said he hopes to regain the mayoral position in new elections in the fall.

What have you been up to since you resigned as mayor?

I had planned to be in politics for about five years, and I believed I could find a new post there. I applied for the post of the secretary general in Pro Patria Union but didn’t get it. Then I started looking further in my life.

I can say with a little exaggeration that when holding a top position in the Estonian economy and being kicked out of there, and holding a high position in Estonian politics and being kicked out of there too, it becomes clear that a new position cannot fit in Estonian boundaries.

My new job – in the transit business – is directed outside Estonia.

After years of being in aggressive opposition, the Center Party is now in power in both the Tallinn city and national governments. Aren’t you disappointed, especially since it happened because of the defection of the Reform Party?

My opinion and that of progressive mankind is, one cannot aspire after dignified aims with undignified actions. This applies to the Reform Party. It’s not only about the defection, it’s also about turning one’s principles around 180 degrees. They violated the (ruling coalition) pact with the Pro Patria Union in a disgraceful way.

Violating political pacts is not in itself actually a problem; the well-being of the nation is the priority. Many projects were left unfinished because the government fell. Now we’re spending hundreds of millions of kroons on municipal apartment houses for the poor and tenants currently living in reclaimed property. Things have gone too far in the other direction.

You angered Mart Laar, the leader of Pro Patria, when you tried to make allegiances with the Center Party when you were mayor last year. Do you think your talks with Savisaar helped to bring down the Pro Patria-led government?

No, I would rather say the opposite. The Pro Patria Union now understands that its position not to cooperate with the Center Party had been too rigid. It’s impossible to ignore a faction that has about 45 percent of the votes simply by saying, “We don’t want to talk with you, and that’s all.” You have to cooperate.

Are you still active in politics?

A little. I’m active in my new business, but I’ve promised to accept social positions in local municipalities or the city council, which are not paid.

How do you rate Edgar Savisaar as mayor of Tallinn?

I’m not the most partial person here to answer that. But Savisaar has violated all the unwritten rules and has started a criminal case against me (about alleged racist comments about Russian speakers). It’s obviously a complete bluff. His former personal assistant and right-hand man Ain Sepik is now the minister of internal affairs. They are both “cultivating” something there.

The criminal case was started a few weeks ago. A certain solidarity once existed among Tallinn mayors, which kept them from giving rigid evaluations of their predecessors’ work. Starting a criminal case is unheard of. If God could see this, he would take away from Savisaar the authority to wear the badge of office.

The Reform Party, which is now a partner, is absolutely incapable of defending its previous views. This has stopped any chance of long-term economic success.

The previous city government thought it right to spend more money on organizing public events, establishing public buildings, squares, places to gather, and roads. It has changed. More money is now spent on satisfying the well-being of a few people. Take the municipal apartments, for example, that cost 1 million kroons ($60,000) a piece. We can’t build these for all 400,000 Tallinners.

Luckily, new elections are coming.

You held the post of Tallinn mayor for 20 months. Did you achieve all you wanted to achieve?

No. The Vabaduse Square development, the new Lillekula football stadium and the Tallinn-Tartu highway were left uncompleted. The highway should have been completed in time for Eurovision.

One thing we changed was the system for supporting sports activities. We used to support coaches for their training, but now we support the participants instead, who can choose their own coaches. Sports schools have been privatized and several were brought under one bookkeeping system. The development plans for the sports hall Saku Suurhall and the Lillekula football stadium were made, which also included private capital.

The city received gorgeous buildings practically without placing any money there. The water company Tallinna Vesi and the heating company Tallinna Soojus were privatized. We planned to cut the number of public officials in the city from 30,000 to 20,000 but only managed half that number before I left the post.

How much further can the number of city officials fall?

A lot of officials have been hired lately. I don’t know what the exact numbers are now. It would be good if 15,000 – including teachers – are left. We should have more private schools and private hospitals. The first thing that occurs to people is that they have to be dismissed. No, their work will be reorganized in the conditions of the market economy. Then they can make more money and do more actual work.

What is the single most pressing problem facing Estonia?

To support the birth of children. There is only one country where the declining birth rate is a bigger problem – Latvia. If I want to shock someone, then I tell him or her that 18,000 people die each year in Estonia and 12,000 are born. The difference is 6,000. Each year a population the size of the city of Rapla is lost. It’s been this way for the last 10 years. In the Soviet period about 21,000 were born and 18,000 died.

Local municipalities should be made responsible for raising children, as is common in Nordic countries, which have overcome these problems. You don’t need marriage; we’re living in the 21st century.

You have fulfilled your part of the task by bringing up three children.

Why do you think three is enough?

Despite your busy schedule, do you have time to get out and relax in the evening?

These projects have temporally been halted. I am struggling with my one-and-a-half year old child, waking up at 6 a.m., and so on. I’m not currently a good guide on entertainment. I’m trying to relax from raising my child and watch him grow.
Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/6488/