19 Feb 2018

Underage labor case sheds light on regulation issues

A 15-year-old was left with no legal recourse after his employer refused to pay him a summer's worth of wages in Tallinn, causing a public debate around the current labor regulations in Estonia.

Marta Tuul
Marta Tuul Eesti Ekspress, Estonia
Source: Eesti Ekspress
Underage labor case sheds light on regulation issues
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Why this story matters:

The case made people react for several reasons. First, Tõnis (name changed) was building a courthouse, and therefore employed by contractors of the government. To think that he could have encountered outright theft at the hands of people employed by the public sector led many to make outspoken requests for reform.

The working conditions were also wildly inadequate for seasoned builders, let alone inexperienced youths. The construction site was flooded throughout most of the summer. 

Finally, the story exposes the pyramid schemes on which many subcontractors still rely. Tõnis was allegedly employed by one company but registered with another, making it possible for his employers to escape legal responsibility. 

The current labor regulations may be dysfunctional, but the backlash speaks for itself: Estonians expect better from the public sector.

work, family

Details from the story:

  • A 15-year-old boy was employed by an unknown company to build a new courthouse in Tallinn, Estonia. He didn't sign a proper contract. Somehow, another company, Vektorr Invest, registered him as a worker. 
  • He decided to quit due to difficult working conditions, However, Vektorr Invest refused to pay him a salary until a lawyer stepped in. 
  • For the rest of the summer, he worked on smaller constraction sites and received payment from them. Consequently, he earned enough money for all of his endeavours and even managed to save some, which made him very proud. 
  • However, the experience has left a mark. Tõnis initially chose the building sector because his grandfather and uncle are professional builders. Now he no longer wants to follow in their footsteps and considers becoming a cook instead.
  • The pyramid schemes of subcontractors in the Estonian building sector are a taboo. One of the country's largest construction companies, Rand & Tuulberg, claims that such schemes do not exist.
  • The work of minors in Estonia is regulated by the The Youth Work Act, first adopted in 1999 and amended in 2010. It defines a young person as “a person between 7 and 26 years of age” and declares that: ”Youth work is the creation of conditions to promote the diverse development of young persons which enable them to be active outside their families and formal education acquired within the adult education system, and work on the basis of their free will.”
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