TALLINN - An 11th hour compromise deal hammered together by state arbiters appears to have narrowly averted a strike by Estonia's bus drivers that was scheduled to begin Dec. 11.
Representatives of the Estonian Transport Worker's Trade Union (ETTA) and the Union of Estonian Automobile Enterprises initialed the agreement, which sets minimum wages for drivers and mechanics for 2008, earlier that day.
ETTA postponed its strike by 24 hours awaiting formal approval by the general assembly of the employers' union, which was to happen at a Dec. 12 meeting just as The Baltic Times was going to press.
Peep Peterson, ETTA's chairman, said that if the employers' union didn't agree with the state conciliator's proposal, it would be obligated to carry out the strike as planned starting at 9 p.m. If the strike were to go ahead, bus drivers in Tartu and Parnu would walk off their jobs, joined in turn each subsequent day by county bus drivers throughout Estonia, inter-city bus drivers, and finally Tallinn bus drivers.
Peterson said he couldn't say how likely a strike was, but remained upbeat on the prospect that the general assembly of Union of Estonian Automobile Enterprises would approve the deal.
"The state conciliator is going to the employers' assembly tomorrow and the minister of economy is also going there. Both are asking for them to keep the industrial peace and to approve this compromise," Peterson said.
Representatives of the employers' association could not be reached for comment by press time, however the head of the association, Villem Tori, told BNS on Dec. 11 that he welcomes the agreement.
"We hope very much that this will regulate the whole transport market, customers will in the future get a higher quality service, more reliable transport and also better drivers," he said.
The agreement would set the minimum wage for bus drivers and mechanics at 7,060 kroons (451 euros) per month, equivalent to 41.80 kroons per hour, Peterson said. The transport workers had been hoping to set the minimum at 45.40 kroons per hour, up from the current minimum of approximately 30 kroons per hour.
Peterson said the agreement on new minimums was reached with a very narrow margin.
"It was a little bit lower than the absolute minimum we agreed amongst ourselves, by some 20 cents per hour, and actually if the proposal from the state conciliator was 10 cents less, we wouldn't agree, so it was really on the border," he said.
Peterson said his union hopes to make up for the loss with a better deal next year, which would link the minimum wages to 75 percent of the average Estonian salary.
ETTA represents over 2,000 bus drivers and mechanics, however the agreements it reaches with the employers' union will set wages industry wide.