TALLINN - Trade union membership rates in Estonia have jumped over the past year as a result of successful strike actions (See Q&A Page 14). Last year's dispute between shipping company Tallink and trade unions in Sweden and Finland resulted in a membership increase of 40 percent for the seafaring workers union.
The president of the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL) Harri Taliga said the Tallink dispute helped increase awareness of union action.
"When the Estonian people saw that unions overseas can be a real power, the membership numbers of seamen increased by 40 percent," Taliga said.
Sea workers were spurred to action after an incident between management and staff onboard a ship on Oct. 25.
Executives allegedly abused staff during a late-night party on a ship operated by the Silja Line, a Swedish-based company recently acquired by Tallink.
As a result, Swedish sea workers went on strike and demanded compensation. Finnish workers also took strike action against Tallink in solidarity with their Swedish counterparts.
Following the incident, Taliga said membership of the Estonian sea workers union jumped from 1,200 to 1,680 's a relatively low figure but a marked increase on previous numbers.
Union participation in Estonia generally remains very low, with only about 14 percent of workers involved as members.
The current industrial action involving medical workers could have an impact on other industries. "When others see that unions have power, everybody wants to join. It is important to show that we have power and we can get what we want. This medical dispute is important, because it is an opportunity to show people what can be achieved," Taliga said
Unions remain locked in negotiations with hospitals and the government over pay rates for doctors, nurses and other medical workers.
Conciliation talks have so far averted two threatened strikes, the most recent planned for Jan 22.
Workers have demanded as much as a 33 percent pay increase, although hospitals claim their current budgets allowed for 25 percent.
Concessions by the Medical Insurance Fund, the government department which finances healthcare, allowed for a budget increase to meet the demands, effective from Apr. 1.
While all parties appear to have agreed to a set of conditions, the details must be accepted by the Estonian Hospitals' Association, which will meet on Jan 24.
Taliga said he expected further industrial action when transport workers begin to negotiate their pay levels with employers in March.