New bill to slash number of public servants

  • 2008-10-15
  • By Matt Withers

SLASH AND BURN: Justice Minister Rein Lang released a proposal to cut the number of public servants from 26,000 to 16,000.

TALLINN - On Tuesday Oct. 13 the Justice Ministry released a draft proposal for a new public service law that will cut public servants' benefits and is likely to leave 10,000 officials jobless. The new bill, released for public consultation, aims to create a clearer distribution of wages, a fairer careers system, and a more reasonable amount of concessions for officials. But Justice Minister Rein Lang said that if the bill is adopted in its present state the number of public servants would drop from 26,000 to as little as 16,000.

To prevent massive outcries from existing public servants the legislation's benefit cuts will, for the most-part, be made applicable only to new employees. Many existing staff will still have to endure the loss of their 'public servant' status.

The bill narrows the legal definition of 'public servants' to include only those who actually exercise public power, such as issuing permits, and not those whose work is of a technical or administrative nature. If the law comes into practice, government institutions would have a one-year transition period to determine which employees would continue as public servants and which would be offered a regular employment contract.
The bill proposes to adjust the public servant wage system by tying a person's remuneration in tandem with their actual contribution, while also aiming to eliminate the numerous benefits package currently in existence. With the changes in place, an official's salary would consist simply of a base wage and individual bonuses, with the latter accounting for no more than 30 percent of the individual's annual income. 

The bill would replace the current bureaucratic certification system with a flexible development and evaluation system and would place the Ministry of Finance in command of public service. The bill would also see public servants' redundancy packages reduced to a third of their current value and would attempt to ensure that vacancies are filled via meritocracy rather than by in-house promotion in order to develop an equal access philosophy.

Last week's announcement that the bill was currently being drafted caught the trade union confederation off-guard. The central union body believed they should have been consulted in the formation of the new laws.
"Some time ago we were asked if we had two representatives to assign to the work group dealing with the topic of public service. But our representatives haven't been invited anywhere so far," said Harri Taliga, head of the trade union confederation.

"This seems to be deliberate, so as to keep us away," he said.
Following the release of the draft proposal, the trade union confederation has suggested that government officers should consider striking to oppose the radical changes envisioned by the Lang's ministry. Taliga said the government has unfairly taken measures to prevent workers from striking to get their demands heard.
"The right to strike is currently made completely absent by the state. It must still be a viable mechanism for the resolution of the disputes which may arise from the altered wages," Taliga said.

Lang said the bill portrays the Justice Ministry's vision of how  the public service should function in the future. The ministry now awaits a response to the bill, anticipating animated debates among politicians and other involved parties, such as the trade union confederation.