TALLINN - Employees of Tallink, Estonia's largest ferry company, went on a warning strike Aug. 4 to protest wage inequality. Union leaders say that if their demands aren't met, they will launch a full strike in September.
"There is a 20- to 200-percent difference in salaries for people [doing] the same job," explained Kaia Vask, leader of the Estonian Seamen's Independent Union (EMSA) to Postimees.
The salary negotiations between EMSA and Tallink began in November 2007. So far, Tallink has made offers that neither guarantee the same standard of living nor fulfill a 1997 agreement to raise employee salaries in proportion to the median salary.
At first, EMSA demanded a 50-percent salary increase, which they have lowered to 36 to 38 percent. The organization says it will not accept anything less, but Tallink offers would raise salaries only 16 percent.
Taavi Tiiman, a Tallink personnel and development manager, told Estonian National Broadcasting that the salary demands of crew members would double Tallink's personnel expenses and are therefore unacceptable and unrealistic.
Uno Maasik's wife has been working for Tallink for seven years. "Cabin servants get 7,000 to 8,000 kroons [420 to 511 euros] per month. My wife gets 1,000 kroons more, because she works on dangerous cargo ships," Maasik said. His wife is now looking for a new job because of the low salary.
EMSA expected 300 to 400 strikers to participate in a march at the Tallink dock, but about 200 showed up. Strikers also gathered at Tallink docks in Sweden and Finland. From Sweden came news that the captain of one ship, the Romantika, refused to let strikers disembark. The management of Tallink was not present at the strike.
Vask says his union's demands are fair and the timing is right 's profits at the company are still rising and the number of passengers has not declined, despite poor performance in the third economic quarter.
Luulea Laane, a spokeswoman from Tallink, told Postimees that the demands in a situation where there's an applied salary agreements is not reasonable
EMSA has over 2,000 members, more than 1,400 of whom currently work for Tallink. Seventy percent of the union's members supported the warning strike.