Estonian trade unions are up in arms over the state's decision to award a renovation contract for several Narva power stations to foreign rather than Estonian companies.
Two firms from Poland and the Czech Republic won a tender to renovate the stations, operated by state-owned Eesti Energia.
Eesti Energia has yet to disclose the identity of the firms or how much they bid although officials said they expected that information to be made public in the coming weeks.
Trade unions said the Estonian companies, especially in the poor Narva region, should have been given a shot at the job.
"The state must protect the employment options of its people. Estonia has the necessary labor force," said Vladimir Alekseyev, head of the Narva Trade Union Association.
Added Villu Tragon, CEO of the Narva-based Hector Trade car repair company, said "We feel neglected."
Tragon said his company offered about 100 welders with European Union proficiency certificates who had previously worked on Norwegian oil rigs.
Alstrom Power Eesti, the largest repair firm specializing in engineering equipment, was among the top Estonian companies who failed to win the tender.
"We have to reconsider our future plans now," said Director Karl Jaanimagi. "We'll send 300 employees to Finland, where they'll build the identical power-generating boilers, and unless we find other contracts, we'll have to fire the other part, about 400 people, in autumn."
Foster Wheeler Eesti, the local branch of the Finnish company Foster Wheeler, the general contractor of the renovation project, said the tender was based purely on economics.
"We don't hire people, we buy certain services. Any company had the right to participate in the tender, and the best price won," said company Director Mati Kaare.
Heiki Laiverik, head of the Maru Konstruktsioonid construction company, said the Poles and Czechs simply offered a lower price. "The price is what counts, and we cannot make anyone accept our proposals," said Laiverik.
The winning Polish and Czech firms will have to consider local labor for the jobs before bringing in foreigners, Kaare said.
But the Finnish business daily Kauppalehti added fuel to the fire when it reported recently that some 100 Polish and 50 Czech workers are planning to come to Estonia to renovate the stations.
The Narva power stations employ 219 qualified builders, 24 of whom come from abroad. Kaare said that in the peak time of renovation, 1,100 specialists would be necessary, about 20 percent of whom would likely be foreign workers.
Economic Affairs Minister Liina Tonisson said on a visit to Narva last week that local trade unions should stop complaining and prove that there is sufficient skilled labor in the country.
"I addressed the trade unions in written form, asking them to prove the existence of those welders. But as they could prove nothing, and we have the renovation started, we had to endorse bringing in the foreign workers."