Commissioner’s visit report (excerpts on employment and access to justice), 2013

Summary

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1. Economic crisis and its effects on the enjoyment of human rights

[..] Access to education, vocational training and the labour market must be non-discriminatory.

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The long-standing socio-economic gap between ethnic minorities and the majority population has become more pronounced following the economic crisis. It is particularly worrying that the gap is perpetuated among young people. The Commissioner urges the Estonian authorities to develop and implement positive measures to address the long-term unemployment and social exclusion of ethnic minorities in Estonia. The new Integration and Social Cohesion Strategy 2020 can be instrumental for this purpose. The labour inclusion of minority youth should be among the priorities.

It is essential to act decisively to remove barriers to the social inclusion of ethnic minorities. Any language requirement in the labour market should be proportionate, also with reference to the geographical location and sector of employment concerned. There is a pressing need to improve awareness of ethnic discrimination and complaints mechanisms among employers and employees. Diversity and equality planning in the labour market should become a regular practice in the private and public sectors alike.

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1. Economic crisis and its effects on the enjoyment of human rights

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1.2 Effects on vulnerable groups

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Ethnic minorities

23. The socio-economic gap between the majority population and ethnic minorities has become more pronounced due to the crisis, particularly in terms of employment. Members of ethnic minorities are clearly disadvantaged in terms of income, employment, representation among decision-makers and risks of poverty. Socio-economic differences by ethnicity appear to be reproduced among the younger generation as well.22

22 Estonian Human Development Report 2007, Eesti Koostöö Kogu, 2008, pp. 47-54; The Russian Second Generation in Tallinn and Kohtla-Järve: the TIES Study in Estonia, Amsterdam University Press, 2011; Estonian Integration Monitoring 2011, Summary, pp. 7 and 12-14.

24. According to the 2011 census, Estonia’s permanent population of 1,294,455 includes 192 different ethnic groups. Of those, 68.7% are ethnic Estonians (889,770), 24.8% are Russians (321,198) and 1.7% are Ukrainians (22,302). The share of Belarusians (12,419) and Finns (7,423) is less than 1%. The number of Roma is 456.23

23 Estonian statistics and academic literature often apply the terms “(ethnic) Estonians” and “non-Estonians” when referring, respectively, to the majority population (whose mother tongue is Estonian) and to ethnic or national minorities (the vast majority of whom are Russian-speakers).

25. Over the years, the unemployment rate of ethnic minorities – who are also increasingly more likely to experience long-term unemployment – has been nearly twice as high as that of the majority. The first quarter of 2010 saw unemployment rates peak at 27.9% among ethnic minorities and 15.7% among the majority population (persons aged between 15 and 74). 24 By 2012, the annual figures fell to 15.3% among minorities and 7.8% among the majority. The pattern is similar for young people; in 2010 unemployment rates for persons aged 15-24 reached a high of 42.1% in the case of minorities and 29.1% for the majority population, falling to 33% and 16.8% in 2011. As for long-term unemployment as a percentage of the total number of unemployed persons in the respective population segments, 48% of unemployed minorities in 2010 fell in this category; for the majority population the share was 43%. In 2012, the figures stood at 61.5% and 47.3% respectively. 25

24 By way of comparison, the respective figures had amounted to only 6% and 3% during the second quarter of 2008.

25 Ministry of Social Affairs, Employment and working life in Estonia 2010-2011, No. 2/2012, pp. 30-33; Employment and working life in Estonia 2009-2010, No. 9/2010, p. 48; Statistics Estonia.

26. One cause for the socio-economic gap between ethnic minorities and the majority population over the long term is structural. Ethnic minorities are mostly employed in lower-paid sectors, such as manufacturing and in wholesale and retail trade. Nearly 52% of the majority population work in
white collar jobs, while the figure for ethnic minorities is 35.3%.26 There is a regional dimension to the disparities as well, with unemployment and risk of poverty being usually the highest in the North-Eastern region (Ida-Viru County) where ethnic minorities constitute the majority. Unemployment (15-74 years) in this region reached 25.8% in 2010 while the national average stood at 16.9%. The respective figures had been 9% and 4.7% in 2007. By 2012, unemployment fell to 17.5% against the national average of 10.2%. In 2011, the at-risk-of-poverty rate for residents of Ida-Viru County stood at 29.4% as compared to a national average of 17.5%. Also during that year, 22.4% of ethnic minorities in Estonia fell under the at-risk-of-poverty line, while the figure was 15.5% for the majority population (Statistics Estonia).

26 Ministry of Social Affairs, Employment and working life in Estonia 2010-2011, No. 2/2012, p. 38

27. The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (AC FCNM) stressed in 2011 that the unemployment rate among ethnic minorities remained disproportionately high compared with that of the majority population although the wage gap between the two groups appeared to be decreasing. It stated that there was a need to combat lingering perceptions that ethnic Estonians are the preferred candidates for jobs, irrespective of qualifications or language ability, in order to ensure that persons belonging to national minorities feel encouraged to participate effectively in economic life. The Committee urged the Estonian authorities to use the ongoing economic recovery as an opportunity for targeted development initiatives in the particularly disadvantaged region of Ida-Virumaa. In its reply, the Estonian government stated that a specific regional development plan (2010-2014) was being implemented.27

27 Advisory Committee on the FCNM, Third Opinion on Estonia, 7 November 2011, ACFC/OP/III(2011)004, p. 8; and Comments of the Government of Estonia, GVT/COM/III(2011)005, p. 12

28. Strict language requirements in Estonian for employment in both the public and private sectors, monitored by the Language Inspectorate, have also put ethnic minorities at a disadvantage. In some cases employers have used more stringent language requirements than those established by language legislation, which has resulted in ethnic discrimination. Expressing concern about the situation, the Advisory Committee on the FCNM underlined that requirements for Estonian language proficiency must be proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued and that their application should allow for some flexibility. Similar concerns have been expressed by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The Estonian Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner has applied the ground of ethnicity of the Equal Treatment Act in her Opinions which have found that linguistic discrimination has taken place against Russian-speakers in the labour market.28

28 Advisory Committee on the FCNM, Third Opinion on Estonia, 7 November 2011, ACFC/OP/III(2011)004, p. 26; UN CERD, Concluding Observations, Estonia, 23 September 2010, CERD/C/EST/CO/8-9, p. 3.

29. According to data collected by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in 2009, 13% of Russians had experienced discrimination in the workplace, and 39% when seeking work. In 2012, 37% of residents surveyed for Eurobarometer considered that discrimination on the basis of ethnicity was widespread in Estonia. A survey assessing the effectiveness of Estonian integration policy published in 2011 found that 20% of respondents coming from ethnic minorities had experienced unequal treatment. However, the lack of a regular data collection mechanism on discrimination in Estonia makes it difficult to make a more detailed assessment of the extent of ethnic discrimination as a barrier to labour inclusion. Some guidance in this area is expected to result from a project initiated in 2012 and carried out by civil society, co-funded by the EU Progress Programme and the Ministry of Social Affairs. The project aims to prepare a diversity charter for the labour market and encourage the development of diversity and equality plans in
companies.29

29 FRA, EU-MIDIS – European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey, Main Results Report, 2010, pp. 176-195; Special Eurobarometer 393, Discrimination in the EU in 2012, Report, p. 29; Estonian Integration Monitoring 2011, Summary, p. 8.

30. The Estonian Integration Strategy 2008-2013 has been the central policy document setting out the objectives for the social and economic inclusion of ethnic minorities. A new Strategy of Integration and Social Cohesion in Estonia until 2020 is planned for adoption in autumn 2013. The active participation of ethnic minorities in the labour market and the importance of raising awareness of human rights and equal treatment have been identified among the objectives for the new Strategy.30 Two new studies have also been commissioned to evaluate the implementation of the 2009 Equal Treatment Act.

30 Ministry of Culture, The Strategy of Integration and Social Cohesion in Estonia, Proposal to the Government of the Republic to draft a development plan for the field (unofficial translation), 2012, p. 10.

1.3 Access to justice

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39. The State Legal Aid Act obliges the Bar Association to ensure an uninterrupted provision of state legal aid even if the funds allocated from the state budget run out before the end of the fiscal year. The budget of the legal aid scheme stood at € 3 million for two consecutive years (2010 and 2011) even though the annual number of legal aid cases increased from 17,789 to 18,824. In 2012, the legal aid budget was increased to € 3.8 million. Although most law firms in Estonia are based in Tallinn, the Bar Association is making efforts to provide initial legal counselling services in other areas through web-based remote consultations. Services are also available in Russian. The Commissioner was informed that the demand for legal aid for civil law cases had steadily increased over recent years. 38

38 State legal aid and regulations: overview of funding arrangements in Estonia, Presentation by Kristen Voltenberg, Chancellor of the Estonian Bar Association, at a Conference on State-Guaranteed Legal Aid, 4 May 2012

1.4 Conclusions and recommendations

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48. The Commissioner is concerned by the long-standing socio-economic gap between ethnic minorities and the majority population, which has become more pronounced following the economic crisis. It is particularly worrying that the gap is perpetuated among young people.

49. The Commissioner urges the Estonian authorities to develop and implement positive measures to address the long-term unemployment and social exclusion of ethnic minorities. The new Integration and Social Cohesion Strategy 2020 and other related policy documents, such as regional development plans, should be used for this purpose. Specific attention should be devoted to the labour inclusion of young persons as well as the availability of quality education and vocational training. Ethnic minorities should be actively involved in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the policies concerned.

50. It is essential to act decisively to remove barriers to the social inclusion of ethnic minorities and to combat ethnic discrimination. There is a pressing need to improve awareness among employers and employees of such discrimination, and of the available remedies. The current strict language requirements for employment in the public and private sector should be reviewed to ensure that they are proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued. The application of language requirements should allow for some flexibility, taking into account the geographical location and sector of
employment concerned.

51. The Commissioner encourages the on-going efforts to improve diversity and equality planning in the Estonian labour market. This should become a regular practice in both the private and public sectors. Data on discrimination and inequalities should be collected on a regular basis.


Document data: 20.06.2013., CommDH(2013)12 Link: https://rm.coe.int/16806db799

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