Health benefits to suffer under budget cuts

  • 2009-02-11
  • By Jana Belugina
TALLINN - In a bid to further slash the budget by reducing public expenditures, the Estonian government has announced a decision to change the system of sick leave compensations. The government hopes to save some 465 million kroons (29 million euros) through the move.

Currently, the first day of sick leave is not compensated. The Health Fund only begins to compensate employees 80 percent of their salary after the second day they are away from work.
Under the new system, however, an employee would not receive sick leave benefits for the first three days they are away 's while for the next five days the sick leave payments are covered by the employer. The Health Fund would only contribute after the ninth day.

The Patients' Union and many doctors have already expressed harsh disapproval of the move.  Pille Ilves, head of the Patients' Union, said the decision was absolutely irresponsible.
"Such a decision will only lead to the aggravation of the economic crisis, as we will undermine peoples' health, as well as commercial sphere," Ilves told the Postimees daily.

Ilves has also said that after the new system comes into force, sick people will still come to work 's thus spreading the disease further and possibly causing widespread illnesses.
A number of working class people agreed, saying that under the new plan they would continue to work even if sick.

"Now I cannot afford to be ill anymore, so I will have to go to work even if I am very sick, because I will either lose money or the job" Natalia Kuvaeva, a teacher, told The Baltic Times.
Employers in turn protested the requirement for the company to compensate sick employees for five days. Many are afraid that this will cause discrimination toward the people with weak health and chronic diseases. This can lead to a  new wave of redundancies and increase already high unemployment.
"Employers will not be interested in the people with chronic diseases. This can lead to the discrimination of the people with health problems," Ilves told Postimees.

Nevertheless, according to Eiki Nester, the chairman of the Social-Democratic faction of Parliament, there are also some advantages to the new system.
Nester believes that this system will motivate employers to care more about the health of their employees and to help highlight situations where some employers have urged their workers to open a sick-list in order to decrease the company's costs.

The budget of the Estonian Health Fund for this year has 2.56 billion kroons earmarked for sick leave compensation.
The system for sick child care compensation has not changed, and such cases will still be covered from the first day.