Application of International Labour Standards in the Regulation of Employment Relationships in Estonia
At present, employment relationships in Estonia are regulated by individual Acts passed in the first half of the 1990’s which, regardless of the constant changes taking place in Estonian society, have stood the test of time relatively well since no major amendments have been made to them. Currently, Estonian labour law is at a crossroads: individual Acts need amendment and, for this purpose, a bill for Part I of the Labour Code (“LC”) has been prepared. At the same time, the position that the regulation of employment relationships by the law of obligations, following the example of a few other small European states, would be more effective in Estonia has gained ground. However, no final decision has yet been made as to which option to choose. This article focuses on how the application of principles provided by international labour standards is ensured in the different ways of regulating employment relationships. This article analyses the current status of Estonian laws in terms of their conformity with international standards and seeks to find a solution to the problem of how to ensure the implementation of international standards in the regulation of employment relationships by the law of obligations.
Role of International Labour Standards
in the Estonian Legal System
At present, labour and social standards are established on the international level by two institutions: the International Labour Organisation (“ILO”) and the European Union (“EU”).
The ILO has been active in this field for almost 80 years and during that time has issued 180 conventions and 187 recommendations. Estonia first became a member of the ILO in 1921 and rejoined in 1992. During 1921-1940, Estonia ratified 21 ILO conventions and since 1992 has ratified 8 further ILO conventions. Consequently, Estonia is currently required to ensure the implementation of the principles established in 29 ILO conventions.
Immediately after the restoration of Estonia's independence in 1991, Estonia became politically oriented toward integration with Europe. The Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Republic of Estonia on Trade and Commercial and Economic Co-operation was signed on 11 May 1992 and a bilateral agreement on free trade and trade related matters was signed on 18 June 1994. However, the most significant agreement is the Association Agreement between Estonia and the European Communities and Member States, the “Europe Agreement”, under which Estonia is required to approximate and harmonise its legislation with that of the EU particularly in trade and economic and related areas, including issues pertaining to the protection of employees.1 As a result, the labour legislation in force in Estonia must comply with European standards which is also a prerequisite for Estonia's accession to the EU.
Effect of ILO Instruments and
EU Legislation on National Law
In order to better understand the role of international labour standards in the Estonian legal system, a brief overview of the scope of application of ILO instruments and EU legislation is provided below.
The ILO issues conventions and recommendations providing for international labour standards. The main difference between the two is that conventions as international agreements become binding on a state after their ratification by the competent state authority. By ratification of a convention, a state assumes definite obligations, and regular international supervision is exercised over performance of those obligations. Recommendations, on the other hand, are not strictly obligatory and serve to provide the main directions for national labour policies. However, states are required to provide the International Labour Office with information concerning the state of their corresponding legislation.
Within one year after a session of the International Labour Conference, every ILO member is required to submit the instruments adopted at the session to its competent state authority to take the measures necessary for application of the corresponding principles. ILO conventions become binding on member states after their ratification by the competent state authority.
Before a convention becomes binding on a state which has ratified it, the convention must formally have entered into force. Pursuant to the ILO Constitution, a convention normally enters into force twelve months after registration of its second ratification with the Director-General of the International Labour Office. A convention becomes binding on a state one year after registration of its ratification with the Director-General of the International Labour Office. No obligations arise for a state if it does not ratify a convention but, nevertheless, every ILO member must report to the International Labour Office on the dates specified by the Governing Body concerning the national legislation in force and practice in the state, and the circumstances preventing or postponing ratification of the convention. Every ILO member is required to submit an annual report complying with the requirements established by the Governing Body on measures taken for the implementation of ratified conventions.
All ILO conventions contain provisions which set out the conditions for their denunciation. Every ILO member who has ratified a convention is within ten years after its entry into force entitled to denounce the convention by an act of denunciation which is communicated to the Director-General of the International Labour Office. If a member state does not denounce a convention within this term, the convention remains in force with respect to the state for another ten years and, therefore, denunciation will only be possible after each subsequent ten-year period. A convention is no longer binding on a state twelve months after the registration of its denunciation with the International Labour Office.2
European Community law includes a body of legal rules which apply within the framework of all three European Communities: the European Coal and Steel Community (“ECSC”), the European Community (“EC”) and the European Atomic Energy Community (“Euratom”). The treaties establishing the three communities provide for the categories of legislation which these communities are competent to adopt. The ECSC founding treaty only prescribes three categories of legislation: decisions, recommendations and opinions (Article 14), whereas the EC and Euratom founding treaties distinguish five categories of legislation: regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions (EC Article 189 and Euratom Article 161). EC and Euratom regulations and the general decisions provided for in the ECSC founding treaty apply in full and are directly applicable in all Member States, that is, such regulations and general decisions do not require any specific procedure (ratification) for their entry into force at the national level but confer rights or impose obligations on EC citizens as of the entry into force date in the same way as the national law of EU Member States. Directives prescribed in the EC and Euratom founding treaties and ECSC recommendations are binding on Member States with regard to the objectives to be achieved but leave to the national authorities of Member States the choice of form and methods to be used to attain the agreed objectives. EC and Euratom decisions and ECSC individual decisions apply in full only to those to whom they are addressed and are, therefore, designated for regulation of individual issues. Opinions and EC and Euratom recommendations have no binding effect and do not confer any rights or impose any obligations on the addressees. All binding legislation is published in the Official Journal of the European Communities in all official languages of the Member States. Regulations, directives and decisions enter into force as of the date specified therein or, in its absence, on the twentieth day after their publication. Specific directives and decisions enter into force as of the moment of delivery to their addressees.3
According to the above overview, Estonia is required to fully comply with the standards established by the ILO and the EU in drafting its labour legislation.
Areas Regulated by the ILO and the EU
With regard to the application of international labour standards in the regulation of employment relationships, which institutions of labour law are regulated by ILO and EU standards must be known in order to understand what should be considered in drafting labour legislation. An overview of the areas in which international labour standards have been established is provided below.
By its instruments, the ILO has regulated a broad range of labour and social issues. Much attention has been paid to the protection of the fundamental rights of employees. Several conventions provide for the principles of freedom of association for employees and employers and their right to organise, equal treatment for employees, and the prohibition of forced labour. ILO standards concern both individual and collective employment relationships. All major institutions of individual labour law are regulated, such as entry into employment contracts, working and rest time, wages, and termination of employment contracts. In terms of collective employment relationships, general standards for communication between employers and trade unions and for collective bargaining have been provided. In addition to labour issues, the ILO has also regulated several other areas such as social welfare, work safety and employment, as well as the employment relationships of different categories of individual employees (children, women, migrant workers and seafarers).
The role of the EU in establishing labour standards is considerably more modest than that of the ILO. This can be explained by the fact that the institutions of the EU have operated for a much shorter period than the ILO bodies, and since all EU Member States are also ILO members, reregulation of labour issues at the EU level is not justified or necessary. The EU establishes its own body of labour and social standards only if a standard higher than that established by the ILO is sought to be provided or if a regulated sphere concerns several EU Member States at the same time. European standards have been established in the following areas: the free movement of labour, private international law pertaining to labour law, equal treatment for men and women, individual employment contracts, working and rest time, maternity protection, work safety of children and young people, occupational health and safety protection, and the reorganisation of enterprises.4 EU institutions have adopted standards pertaining to collective employment relationships only in individual matters.
Thus, a wide range of labour issues is regulated at the international level. In the national regulation of specific employment relationships, the legislator should possess a good knowledge of the corresponding area of international law and, in addition to the national practice, should also be familiar with international labour legislation, and the laws and practice of other countries.
Application of International Labour Standards in the Regulation of Employment Relationships by Labour Legislation
As mentioned, employment relationships in Estonia are currently regulated by several Acts. The most significant Acts are the Employment Contracts Act (1992), the Holiday Act (1992), the Collective Agreements Act (1993), the Working and Rest Time Act (1994) and the Wages Act (1994). Although, in drafting these Acts, the drafters considered the labour standards established by the ILO, these Acts, passed in the first half of the 1990’s, do not yet contain European standards. This is understandable since, on the one hand, Estonia's wish to become a member of the EU had not yet been clearly formulated and, on the other, EU legislation was not accessible in Estonia at the time.
Upon comparison of Estonian labour legislation with the ILO conventions and recommendations regulating the main institutions of labour law, it can be claimed that, in general terms, Estonian labour legislation is currently in conformity with ILO instruments. Next, the aspects of ILO international labour standards which the Estonian legislators have considered and whether Estonian laws comply with such standards will be briefly analysed. Due to the extensive scope of the subject-matter under discussion, the focus in this analysis will mainly be on legislation regulating individual employment relationships.
In the regulation of employment relationships, it is most important that use of the fundamental rights provided for in international instruments be guaranteed for both employees and employers. In this respect, the principles established in ILO conventions No. 29 “Forced Labour Convention” (1930), No. 87 “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention” (1948), No. 98 “Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention” (1949), No. 105 “Abolition of Forced Labour Convention” (1957) and No. 111 “Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention” (1958) are most relevant. All the specified conventions above except the last one have been ratified by Estonia.
Estonian laws comply with the standards provided for in ILO conventions No. 29 “Forced Labour Convention” and No. 105 “Abolition of Forced Labour Convention”5 which prohibit the application of forced labour. The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia guarantees Estonian citizens the right to freely choose their area of activity, profession and place of work. Under the Constitution, no one shall be compelled to perform work or service against his or her free will, except on the bases specified in sections 29 and 130, that is, service in the regular armed forces or alternative service; work to prevent the spread of an infectious disease; work in the case of a natural disaster or catastrophe; work which convicts must perform on the basis of and pursuant to procedure established by law; and work during a state of emergency or state of war.6
Further, Estonian legislation is in full conformity with ILO conventions No. 87 and 98 concerning the freedom of association.7 The implementation of standards established in these conventions is ensured in Estonia by the Constitution, the Employment Contracts Act (“ECA”) and Acts concerning collective employment relationships. Further, a bill for the Trade Unions Act regulating issues pertaining to the legal status of organisations of employees has been prepared. Unlike many other countries, regulation of this area by law is necessary in Estonia since Estonian trade unions are still in the development stages and state guarantees are necessary for their activities.
However, there are problems with equal treatment for men and women, particularly with remuneration. In Estonia, the principle of equal treatment for all employees has been established by the Constitution, the ECA and the Wages Act (“WA”). Although Estonian labour legislation is in conformity with ILO convention No. 100 “Equal Remuneration Convention” (1951)8 which Estonia has also ratified, equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value is not guaranteed since in practice, there is yet no mechanism for the appraisal of work. Although section 10 of the ECA and section 5 of the WA establish a long list of grounds on which permission, the granting of privileges and the restriction of rights are unlawful (such as sex, nationality, colour, race, native tongue, social origin, social position, political opinion and other beliefs), all employees are not accorded equal treatment since there are no practical measures to implement these provisions.
An analysis of the conformity in general of Estonian labour legislation with the ILO conventions regulating working and rest time, such as No. 47 “Forty-Hour Week Convention” (1935), No. 106 “Weekly Rest (Commerce and Offices) Convention” (1957), No. 132 “Holidays with Pay Convention (Revised)” (1970), No. 171 “Night Work Convention” (1990) and No. 175 “Part-time Work Convention” (1994) indicates that although the Estonian Acts regulating working and rest time comply in principle with international standards, they should be further elaborated.
Pursuant to ILO convention No. 171 “Night Work Convention”,9 more extensive state guarantees should be established for persons working at night. According to international standards, workers are entitled to a free medical assessment before assignment to night work and thereafter at regular intervals; if possible, workers should be transferred to day work if due to health problems they are not fit to work at night; and occupational health and safety protection corresponding to the task performed must be ensured for workers if the night work may damage the workers' health or safety. Since Estonian labour legislation does not prescribe such extensive protection for night workers, the corresponding legislation needs significant amendments in this respect.
Further, since ILO convention No. 175 “Part-time Work Convention” was adopted only in 1994, corresponding amendments to Estonian labour legislation are also necessary. According to international standards, limits on the working hours and earnings of part-time workers must be determined by prior consultation with the representatives of employees and employers. Based on the practice in other countries, the limit on the earnings of part-time workers in Estonia should be a sum exceeding the minimum wages exempt from tax and the working time of part-time workers should be at least 15-20 hours per week. Also, the law should provide that if the working hours or earnings of employees are lower than an established standard, such employees have no right to receive many of the benefits arising from employment relationships.
The main ILO conventions regulating wages are No. 26 “Minimum Wage-Fixing Machinery Convention” (1928), No. 131 “Minimum Wage Fixing Convention” (1970), and No. 95 “Protection of Wages Convention” (1949). Estonian legislation regulating wages is generally in conformity with the provisions of the above-mentioned instruments. Convention No. 9510 was adopted in 1949 and has become obsolete. The Estonian WA regulates wage issues in much more detail, including the remuneration for work under special conditions, establishment of wage rates and wage systems, and guarantees and benefits related to wages.11 According to international standards, a procedure for the establishment of minimum wages which involves representatives of employees, employers and the government has been introduced in Estonia. However, the currently effective minimum wages do not comply with the principle established in international instruments according to which minimum wages must guarantee satisfaction of the needs of employees and their families at a decent level.
The most relevant ILO conventions concerning termination of employment contracts are No. 158 “Termination of Employment Convention” (1982)12 and No. 173 “Protection of Workers' Claims (Employer Insolvency) Convention” (1992). Convention No. 158 establishes the general requirements for the termination of employment contracts. Under the Convention, employment contracts may be terminated on the initiative of employers on two grounds: for reasons connected with the capacity or conduct of a worker; or for economic, technological or structural reasons. Differently from the Convention, the Estonian ECA establishes eleven grounds for termination of employment contracts on the initiative of employers which can be divided into two groups similar to those provided for in the Convention. The ECA also provides for the requirement to give advance notice of the termination of an employment contract as prescribed in the Convention, and for other like issues. The detailed regulation of the termination of employment contracts in Estonia can be explained by the fact that Estonia lacks a strong system of collective agreements to protect employees against the arbitrary actions of an employer upon termination of their employment contracts.
Based on a comparison of Estonian legislation with ILO Convention No. 173, it may be stated that, in this respect, Estonian laws are generally in conformity with international standards. Since the Convention was adopted in 1992, the Estonian Bankruptcy Act13 was only recently amended in order to apply the principles provided for in the Convention. In Estonia, satisfaction of employees' claims upon the bankruptcy of their employer is secured both by a preferred claim and by a guarantee organisation. In accordance with the Convention, the extent of employees' claims is limited. However, it remains questionable whether the limitation of claims to the extent of two months’ average wages is sufficient protection for employees upon termination of their employment contracts due to the bankruptcy of their employer. In Estonia, the state acts as the guarantee organisation which satisfies employees' claims. At present, discussions are being held in order to establish a specific body to perform this function.
Application of International Labour Standards in the Regulation
of Employment Relationships
by the Labour Code
In the autumn of 1996, a bill for Part I of the LC containing the general provisions and provisions concerning employment contracts was completed. The purpose of the LC is to regulate the employment relationships between employees (contractors) and employers, and the rights and obligations of associations of employees and employers in the formation of employment relationships, by enactment of a uniform systematised labour code instead of individual labour legislation and, thus, eliminate conflicts and fill in gaps in labour legislation.14 In addition, the principles established by EU legislation were also considered in drafting the LC. Below, an overview of the European standards which were considered in drafting the LC is provided and how international standards are reflected in the draft LC is also explained. Since only Part I of the LC has been completed, the EU legislation which should be considered in the further stages of drafting the LC is also analysed.
Much attention in the LC has been paid to equal treatment for male and female employees. The directives considered in drafting the LC were EC Council Directive 76/207/EEC on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions15 and EC Council Directive 75/117/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the application of the principle of equal pay for men and women.16 Based on EC Council Directive 76/207/EEC, subsection 5 (1) of the LC establishes that equal opportunities for employment, holidays, working conditions and promotion are guaranteed for men and women. Subsection 5 (2) of the LC under which men and women are guaranteed equal pay for work of equal value follows the same principle established in EC Council Directive 75/117/EEC.
The principles set out in EC Council Directive 94/33/EEC on the protection of young people at work17 were also considered in drafting the LC. In order to apply this directive, a significant amendment to the current legislation through the LC was not necessary. As a rule, persons aged 18 years and older and, as an exception, minors aged between 13-17 years are allowed to work, but there are strict restrictions on the employment of minors between 13 and 14 years of age. In the latter case, employment is only permitted during school vacations and consent of one parent or a labour inspector is required. The established standards fully comply with the provisions of the Directive. However, the principles set out in the Directive should be considered in regulating the protection of minor workers at work and their working and rest time, since existing legislation does not prescribe such regulations.
EC Council Directive 91/533/EEC on an employer's obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship18 concerns entry into employment contracts. Upon comparing the main terms for employment contracts or employment relationships as specified in the Directive with the provisions of the Estonian LC, it may be stated that the mandatory terms established for employment contracts in the ECA fully comply with the essential terms provided for in the Directive. Therefore, no amendment of the corresponding part of the LC was necessary. Under the LC, the mandatory terms of an employment contract must be agreed on in writing upon entry into the employment contract, unlike the Directive which permits their written formulation within two months after commencement of employment. The Directive also provides for the possibility of an employer to make, not later than two months after commencement of employment, a unilateral declaration setting out all the main terms of the employment contract. In Estonia, since there is not a strong system of collective agreements yet regulating employment relationships, determination of the terms of employment contracts by unilateral instruments of employers is not permitted. On the basis of the Directive, section 28 of the LC regulates the procedure for entry into employment contracts in the case of employment abroad. If the place of employment is a foreign state, the parties are, in addition to the mandatory terms, required to agree on the employment period in the foreign state unless the duration of employment in the foreign state does not exceed one month.
No significant amendments to the current Estonian system were necessary in connection with the application of the principles established in EC Council Directive 92/85/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding.19 The provisions of the Directive concerning transfer of pregnant or breastfeeding women into another position and termination of employment contracts with such persons are reflected in sections 76 and 102 of the draft LC.
The most significant EC directives concerning termination of employment contracts are EC Council Directive 75/129/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to collective redundancies and EC Council Directive 77/187/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the safeguarding of employees' rights in the event of transfers of undertakings, businesses or parts of businesses.
Pursuant to EC Council Directive 75/129/EEC20 , an employer is, before instituting collective redundancies, required to inform the representatives of employees thereof and consult with them. Further, an employer must inform the employment authority of any planned redundancies. Subsection 87 (3) of the Estonian LC requires an employer to inform the representative of an employee of termination of the employment contract, but the latter’s opinion is not relevant in the lay-off.21 The draft LC has been considerably amended in this respect. Sections 105 and 106 of the LC prescribe the duty of an employer to inform the representative of employees and the head of the local labour inspectorate of planned collective redundancies. An employer is required to submit to them written information concerning the reasons for the planned redundancies, the number of categories of employees to be made redundant and the period over which the planned redundancies are to be instituted. The representative of employees has the right to make written proposals on the planned redundancies, which the employer is required to discuss with the representatives of the employees. The head of a local labour inspectorate has the right to suspend planned redundancies for sixty days if persons made redundant are not provided with another job.22 All these principles comply with the corresponding provisions of EC Council Directive 75/129/EEC.
Pursuant to EC Council Directive 77/187/EEC23 , transfers of undertakings, businesses or parts of business do not constitute a reason for termination of employment contracts and, in such case, termination of the employment relationships with employees is only possible if this results from economic, technological, structural or other conditions which bring about redundancies. In Estonia, preservation of the employment relationships upon transfers of commercial undertaking or parts thereof is, in principle, guaranteed. Pursuant to section 6 of the ECA, reorganisation of or a change in the subordination, owner or form of ownership of enterprises, agencies or other organisations does not terminate the employment contracts.24 A similar principle is also established in sections 109 and 110 of the draft LC. Under the Directive, both former and new employers are required to inform representatives of the employees upon transfers of undertakings or parts thereof. If an employer is compelled to make employees redundant for economic, technological, structural or other reasons, the employer must consult representatives of the employees in these issues. Since the Estonian ECA does not offer such specific regulation, these issues have been elaborated by the LC. Pursuant to section 109 and 110 of the LC, employers are required to give a representative of employees written notice of the reasons for changes and the resulting consequences for the employees upon merger, division, transformation of or a change in the subordination or owner of legal persons and upon transfers of the property or possession or parts thereof of enterprises or parts thereof. If a corresponding undertaking or agency has no representative, such information will be given to the employees.
EC Council Directive 93/104/EEC concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time was not directly followed in the drafting of the LC25 since Part I of the LC does not regulate working and rest time. However, the Directive should be considered in the further regulation of employment relationships because the application of some of its provisions may prove problematic in Estonia. Pursuant to Article 6 of the Directive, average working time, including overtime, must not exceed 48 hours during a period of seven days. Section 15 of the Working and Rest Time Act (“WRTA”) permits 4 hours of overtime per day and establishes 12 hours as the maximum duration of a shift.26 Thus, it is theoretically possible that weekly maximum working time may exceed 48 hours (5 x 12 = 60 hours per week). Also, employment in more than one position is permitted in Estonia. Pursuant to section 17 of the WRTA, the working time of persons employed in more than one position must not exceed 20 hours per week in addition to the working time in their principal position, and if such persons work part-time in their principal position, the working time of the principal position and the other job must not exceed the total of 60 hours per week.27 In this respect, a conflict with the Directive is evident, as working time of more than 48 hours per week is lawful in Estonia. Therefore, employment in more than one position and overtime must be considerably restricted in order to ensure compliance of Estonian labour legislation with international standards.
EC Council Directive 80/987/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the protection of employees in the event of insolvency of their employer28 has not been used directly in the bill for Part I of the LC. Since the corresponding ILO convention establishes considerably higher standards which have been introduced in Estonian legislation already, the application of the Directive should not cause any problems. However, based on the Directive, an independent guarantee organisation should be set up to satisfy the claims of employees in the event of insolvency of their employer.
On the basis of the above, it may be concluded that in the preparation of labour legislation in force in Estonia, the corresponding international standards were considered. Apart from a few amendments made on the basis of ILO conventions, the recently completed draft LC includes provisions which are fully modeled on EU labour legislation.
Application of International Labour Standards in the Regulation of Employment Relationships by the Law of Obligations International standards discussed in the previous section must also be observed in the regulation of employment relationships by the law of obligations. The situation would be easier if a special part of the Law of Obligations Act only established the general rules governing the essential aspects of employment contracts, and employment relationships were more specifically regulated by an independent labour code. In such case, the international labour standards followed in drafting the LC would remain effective and, in the further elaboration of the LC, standards which had not yet been followed could be considered.
However, the situation would be much more complex if the special part of the Law of Obligations Act29 regulated employment relationships in more detail and the regulation of employment relationships was fully confined to this Act. In such case, whether the implementation of the principles provided by international instruments could be ensured is questionable.
In the regulation of employment relationships by the law of obligations, some states have opted for collective agreements as the means to ensure implementation of the principles of international labour law.
Larger organisations of employees and employers often enter into collective agreements at the national level in which labour issues are regulated in great detail. Therefore, one of the reasons why the regulation of employment relationships by the law of obligations is possible is the fact that such relatively insufficient regulation by law is compensated for by the activities of very strong organisations of employees and employers and that the actual employment relationships are negotiated. The principles established in collective agreements at lower levels also cannot be considered any less important. As stated above, Estonian trade unions are still in the development stages and, therefore, collective agreements which would play an important role in the formation of employment relationships have not yet been entered into. At present, the primary objective in the promotion of collective employment relationships is to achieve collective agreements which govern the basic issues of employment relationships.
Further, ensuring the implementation of the provisions concerning collective employment relationships as prescribed by international standards is problematic. As explained earlier, it is not possible to regulate collective employment relationships in Estonia solely by negotiation between the organisations of employees and employers. At the same time, issues relating to collective agreements cannot be included in the law of obligations since the standard principles of contract law do not apply to collective agreements. However, if collective agreements remain unregulated altogether, this would have an adverse effect on the progress already achieved in communications between organisations of employees and employers.
In the regulation of employment relationships by the law of obligations, the application of international labour standards may, in addition to collective agreements, be ensured by the passage of individual Acts.
Several states have used this option. In order to implement EU legislation, many EU Member States have enacted corresponding specific Acts. For example, some states have passed Acts concerning equal treatment for men and women, the transfer of enterprises, and collective redundancies. In order to ensure the implementation of standards provided by the EU, the passage of specific Acts by EU Member States who have their own labour law traditions was probably the best solution.
Since in the application of international labour standards, Estonia cannot rely solely on the hope that collective agreements to be entered into in the future will observe such international standards, specific Acts in certain areas should be passed if employment relationships are to be regulated by the law of obligations.
At present, all major principles established by ILO conventions have been followed in the preparation of Estonian labour legislation. However, amendment of the laws is necessary because, on the one hand, the ILO has provided more up-to-date standards and, on the other, there are EU standards which must be considered to which attention was not yet been paid in the first half of the 1990’s. The creation of a uniform LC would be the best solution since this would allow for both systematisation and amendment of the labour legislation already in force. There is no doubt that the implementation of international labour standards is also possible if employment relationships are regulated by the law of obligations. In such case, several areas of labour law must be regulated by a number of specific Acts. Thus, the application of international labour standards is possible by the regulation of employment relationships by either labour law or the law of obligations.
A transition from labour law to the law of obligations in the regulation of employment relationships is a very important legal and political decision whereby the currently effective system in Estonia would be drastically changed. However, the question arises of whether it is reasonable to destroy a system functioning well. Replacement of one system with another cannot be an objective in itself but must bring about progress. Changes necessary in order to ensure the application of international labour standards in the regulation of employment relationships by the law of obligations constitute just one problem in a series of problems likely to arise. Thus, it should be asked whether it is reasonable and justified to incur the expense of the passage of specific individual Acts instead of improving the existing body of rules of labour law. Improvement of the current system would be much more effective in achieving full compliance of the Estonian Acts regulating employment relationships with international standards.