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Title:  Estonia Human Rights Practices, 1995 
Author:  U.S. Department of State  
Date:  March 1996  
 
 
 
 
                           ESTONIA 
 
 
Estonia is a parliamentary democracy.  With its statehood widely 
recognized as continuous for more than 70 years, Estonia regained its 
independence in 1991 after 50 years of Soviet occupation.  The 
Constitution, adopted by referendum in 1992, established a 101-member 
unicameral legislature (State Assembly), a Prime Minister as Head of 
Government, and a President, elected by Parliament, as Head of State.  
Free and fair parliamentary elections were held in March. 
 
The official conversion of the Soviet militia into the Estonian police 
preceded the reestablishment of the country's independence by about 6 
months.  However, conversion of the police into a force committed to 
procedures and safeguards appropriate to a democratic society is 
proceeding slowly.  The security service, called security police, is 
subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  The police, ethnically 
mixed and also subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 
continued to commit human rights abuses, as did corrections personnel 
subordinate to the Ministry of Justice.  Forces of the Russian 
Federation were withdrawn in 1994, pursuant to agreements reached 
between the two countries.  Problems remain, however, over the status of 
hundreds of Russian soldiers demobilized in Estonia. 
 
Estonia has an open-market economy.  Reflecting the extent of its post-
1992 reforms, Estonia signed a Europe Agreement with the European Union 
in June which granted associate member status without a transition 
period.  Services are growing in importance compared to historically 
more prominent light industry and food production.  Privatization of 
small and medium firms is virtually complete, and large-scale 
privatization is underway.  Gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed 
somewhat to about 4 percent annually.  Per capita GDP is approximately 
$1,600 per year.  Two-thirds of Estonian exports--mainly textiles, food 
products, and timber products--now flow to Western markets.  
Unemployment remained low overall (unofficially about 8 percent) but was 
significantly higher in rural areas and in the predominantly ethnic 
Russian northeast. 
 
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and 
the large resident noncitizen community, but problems remained in some 
areas.  The major human rights abuses continued to be mistreatment of 
prisoners and detainees and the use of excessive force by the police.  
Prison conditions are poor.  Problems remain in clarifying the status of 
the 11 percent of noncitizens who have not to date registered for 
permanent residency and in the slow pace of processing the applications 
for permanent residency of 15,000 retired Russian military pensioners.  
The Government extended from July 1995 to April 1996 the deadline for 
submission of residence permit applications for Soviet-era noncitizens 
and continued to issue temporary travel documents and aliens' passports 
to eligible noncitizens for departure from and return to Estonia. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings. 
 
  b.  Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
Such practices are prohibited by law.  However, there continued to be 
credible reports of police using excessive force and verbal abuse during 
the arrest and questioning of suspects.  Punishment cells ("kartsers") 
continued to be utilized, in contravention of international standards.  
Severe overcrowding was notable at the Tallinn pretrial detention prison 
built in 1765.  Two cases of hazing occurred in the military; the 
perpetrators were disciplined. 
 
During the year, the Government continued steps to address the poor 
prison conditions.  In February the authorities fired the deputy 
director of the Tallinn Central Prison after prison guards attacked a 
group of persons who had approached the restricted prison area and 
sentenced another prison official to 2 years' probation and a fine for 
mistreating prisoners.  In November the Government opened a new pretrial 
detention facility which, with more than 400 beds, should significantly 
reduce overcrowding among pretrial detainees.  Previously, in September 
the authorities opened a new recreation and training center in the Harku 
Women's Prison.  In 1995 one prisoner killed another, in contrast to 
1992 when there were 32 such killings. 
 
The Government has also drafted a multiyear plan to refurbish and 
restructure all the country's prisons and to close the Tallinn Central 
Prison.  At the invitation of the Minister of Justice, representatives 
of the Council of Europe (COE) studied prison conditions and made 
recommendations on the steps required to bring them into accord with COE 
standards.  Some of the COE recommendations had been implemented by 
year's end, but fulfillment of others is hampered by lack of resources 
and high turnover among prison staff. 
 
  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Constitution and laws forbid arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, 
and the Government generally observes this prohibition.  Under the 
Constitution, warrants issued by a court are required to make arrests.  
Detainees must be informed promptly of the grounds for the arrest and 
given immediate access to legal counsel.  If a person cannot afford 
counsel, the State will provide one.  A person may be held for 48 hours 
without formally being charged; further detention requires a court 
order.  A person may be held in pretrial detention for  
2 months; this may be extended up to a total of 12 months by a court 
order.  Police rarely violate these limits.  By midyear, 1,425 of the 
4,007 persons held in prisons were awaiting trial. 
 
  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The Constitution establishes an independent judicial branch operating 
through a three-tier court system:  rural and city courts, district 
courts, and the State Court (which functions as a supreme court).  The 
district and state courts are also courts for "constitutional 
supervision."  At the rural and city level, court decisions are made by 
a majority vote with a judge and two lay members sitting in judgment.  
All judges and lay judges must be citizens.  The President nominates and 
the State Assembly confirms the Chief Justice of the State Court.  The 
Chief Justice nominates State Court judges who are subject to 
confirmation by the Parliament.  He also nominates the district, city, 
and rural court judges who are then appointed by the President.  All 
judges are appointed for life. 
 
The Constitution provides that court proceedings shall be public.  
Closed sessions may be held only for specific reasons, such as 
protection of state or business secrets and in cases concerning minors.  
The Constitution further provides that defendants may present witnesses 
and evidence as well as confront and cross-examine prosecution 
witnesses.  Defendants have access to prosecution evidence and enjoy a 
presumption of innocence. 
 
Estonia continued to overhaul its criminal and civil procedural codes.  
An interim Criminal Code, which went into effect in 1992, revised the 
Soviet-era criminal code by eliminating, for example, political and 
economic crimes.  The Code of Criminal Procedure was adopted in 1994.  
New codes in a variety of fields were being drafted at year's end. 
 
There were no reports of political prisoners. 
 
  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The law requires a search warrant for search and seizure of property.  
During the investigative stage, warrants are issued by the prosecutor 
upon a showing of probable cause.  Once a case has gone to court, 
warrants are issued by the court.  The Constitution provides for secrecy 
of the mail, telegrams, telephones, and other means of communication.  
Police must obtain a court order to intercept a person's communications.  
Illegally obtained evidence is not admissible in court.  In October a 
political scandal erupted when then Minister of Internal Affairs 
Savisaar was implicated in the illicit recording of his conversations 
with other politicians.  Parliament appointed a special committee to 
investigate the matter, including the contacts of police with private 
security firms.  Savisaar was dismissed, the cabinet resigned, and a new 
governing coalition was formed.  Security police and parliamentary 
investigations were continuing at year's end. 
 
There have been no reports of forced political membership, coercive 
population control, or forced resettlement.  In a widely reported case 
during the summer, the police, without a warrant, destroyed a field of 
alleged opium poppies.  An internal police disciplinary investigation of 
the incident continued at year's end.  At the same time a criminal case 
was filed against the owner of the field for growing opium poppies; the 
owner asserted that he was growing oil poppies.  The case had not come 
to trial as of late in the year. 
 
Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Government generally respects constitutional provisions providing 
for freedom of speech and press.  Print journalism continues to 
underscore its independence through more probing investigative 
reporting.  Foreign newspapers and magazines are widely available.  
Although the Government still provides most newsprint and printing and 
distribution facilities, the role of private companies is rapidly 
expanding.  There are three major national Estonian-language and two 
Russian-language dailies. 
 
State broadcast media, including one nationwide television channel, 
receive large subsidies, and the State has assured that these subsidies 
will continue.  There are several major independent television and radio 
stations.  The Government has stopped retransmission of television 
channels from Russia owing to nonpayment of fees, but several Russian-
language programs, mostly Estonian produced, are broadcast over state 
and private television channels.  Russian state television and Ostankino 
programs are widely available via cable. 
 
There is complete academic freedom. 
 
  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for the right to assemble freely, but 
noncitizens are prohibited from joining political parties, although they 
may form social groups.  Permits for all public gatherings must be 
obtained 3 weeks prior to the date of the gathering.  The authorities 
have wide discretion to prohibit such gatherings on public safety 
grounds but seldom exercise it.  There were no reports of Government 
interference in mass gatherings or political rallies. 
 
  c.  Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
respects this right in practice. 
 
The 1993 Law on Churches and Religious Organizations requires any group 
which wishes to be considered a religious organization to have at least 
12 members and to register with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the 
Board of Religion.  Leaders of religious organizations must be citizens 
with at least 5 years' residence in Estonia. 
 
The majority of Estonians are nominally Lutheran, but following deep-
seated tradition there is wide tolerance of other denominations and 
religions.  People of varying ethnic backgrounds profess Orthodoxy, 
including communities of Russian Old Believers who found refuge in 
Estonia in the 17th century.  The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church 
(EAOC), independent since 1919, subordinate to Constantinople since 
1923, and exiled under the Soviet occupation, reregistered under its 
1935 statute in August 1993.  Since then, a group of ethnic Estonian and 
Russian parishes preferring to remain under the authority of the Russian 
Orthodox Church structure imposed during the Soviet occupation has 
insisted that it should have claim to the EAOC name.  This group has 
refused to register under any other name, although its refusal to 
register violates Estonian law.  While church authorities work to 
resolve this question, the Government has assured parishes aligned with 
the Russian Orthodox Church that they may continue to worship unimpeded. 
 
  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The law permits free movement within the country, and it is honored in 
practice.  It also provides for the right of foreign travel, emigration, 
and repatriation for Estonian citizens.  There are no exit visas. 
 
In July 1993, Parliament enacted the Law on Aliens that defines an alien 
as a person who is not a citizen of Estonia, i.e., a citizen of another 
country or a stateless person.  The majority of noncitizens are ethnic 
Russians.  The law provided a 1-year period during which noncitizens who 
came to Estonia prior to July 1, 1990, and were considered permanent 
residents of the former "Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic," could 
apply for temporary residence permits.  They could also apply for 
permanent residence at the same time.  Following delays and confusion in 
implementation, as well as criticism by international human rights 
observers, the application deadline was extended by a year, until July 
12.  Even though by the July deadline the vast majority of aliens--
327,737 of the estimated 370,000--had filed applications, the Government 
extended the registration period through April 30, 1996. 
 
There were also complaints about the slow pace with which the Government 
was processing residence applications for some 15,000 Russian military 
pensioners.  The process was complicated by the lack of Russian-provided 
passports in which to affix the permits. 
 
No restrictions are placed on the right of noncitizens to foreign 
travel, emigration, or repatriation, although some noncitizens complain 
of delays in obtaining travel documents.  The Government began issuing 
temporary travel documents valid for a single departure and reentry into 
the country to resident aliens in 1994.  To accommodate entry visa 
requirements of other countries, the validity period of this document 
was extended from 6 months to 2 years.  In the fall of 1994, the 
Government began issuing "alien's passports" to resident aliens not in 
possession of any other valid travel document.  These included:  (1) 
persons who are designated as stateless; (2) foreign citizens who lack 
the opportunity to obtain travel documents of their country of origin or 
of another state; (3) persons who file for Estonian citizenship and pass 
the language examination if required; and, (4) aliens who are 
permanently departing Estonia.  The Government plans to expand the 
classes of noncitizens eligible for alien's passports; it has already 
approved their issuance to noncitizens intending to study abroad. 
 
The Government does not accord refugee status or asylum.  The 
representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the 
Nordic and Baltic states continues to urge Estonia to develop and adopt 
legislation distinguishing between refugees, applicants for asylum, and 
illegal immigrants.  The representative distributed Estonian language 
copies of the UNHCR handbook for determining refugee status.  Such 
legislation had not been drafted by year's end.  A hijacker who diverted 
a plane from Russia to Estonia in 1994 applied for asylum.  Russia 
requested his extradition.  The case became moot when the hijacker 
committed suicide in January. 
 
Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
Citizens have the right to change their government.  In March free and 
fair multiparty elections were held for the second Parliament since 
reestablishment of independence.  Among deputies are six ethnic 
Russians.  The 101-member Parliament (Riigikogu or State Assembly) 
confirmed Tiit Vahi as Prime Minister.  Vahi had his coalition 
Government confirmed in April.  As a result of the illicit eavesdropping 
scandal in October, Vahi resigned and then put together a new coalition 
government.  The Law on Local Elections adopted in 1993 permits resident 
noncitizens to vote but not run for office.  Local elections are set for 
the fall of 1996. 
 
The citizenship law enacted in February 1992 readopted the 1938 
citizenship law.  According to the law, anyone born after 1940 to an 
Estonian citizen parent is an Estonian citizen by birth.  The parent 
does not have to be an ethnic Estonian.  The Government estimates that 
under this provision some 80,000 persons not ethnically Estonian have 
obtained citizenship.  The law included requirements for naturalization, 
such as a 2-year residency requirement, to be followed by a 1-year 
waiting period, as well as knowledge of the Estonian language. 
 
On January 19, Parliament adopted a new citizenship law, which revised 
the 1992 law and combined into one statute provisions regarding 
citizenship that were scattered among several pieces of legislation.  
The new law became effective on April 1.  It extended the residency 
requirement for naturalization from 2 to 5 years and added a requirement 
for knowledge of the Constitution and the citizenship law.  Persons who 
had taken up what was considered legal residence in the "Estonian Soviet 
Socialist Republic" prior to July 1, 1990 (a group which includes the 
overwhelming majority of the noncitizens currently in Estonia) are 
exempt from the 5-year legal residence and 1-year waiting period 
requirements.  The law allows the Government to waive language but not 
civic knowledge requirements for applicants who have obtained Estonian-
language education, or who have performed valuable service to Estonia. 
 
According to paragraph 21 of the new law, the following classes of 
persons are ineligible for naturalization:  those filing on the basis of 
false data or documents; those not abiding by the Estonian 
constitutional system or not fulfilling Estonian laws; those who have 
acted against the Estonian State and its security; those who have 
committed crimes and been punished with a sentence of more than 1 year 
or who have been repeatedly brought to justice for felonies; those who 
work or have worked in the intelligence or security services of a 
foreign state; those who have served as career soldiers in the armed 
forces of a foreign state, including those discharged into the reserves 
or retired, as well as spouses who came to Estonia in connection with 
the soldier's assignment or retirement.  A provision of the law allows 
for the granting of citizenship to a foreign military retiree who has 
been married to a native Estonian citizen for 5 years. 
 
Between 1992 and mid-December 1995, some 65,000 people had applied for 
and received Estonian citizenship.  Almost 83,000 cases were pending, 
with naturalizations averaging about 2,000 a month.  Some observers 
attribute this growing but still relatively low number to indecision 
over whether to apply for Estonian citizenship or citizenship of another 
country, such as Russia.  In December official Russian sources claimed 
that 82,000 persons had obtained Russian citizenship but refused to 
supply the Government with a list. 
 
The new citizenship law was criticized as discriminatory by the Russian 
Government and by some in the local ethnic-Russian communities.  On the 
basis of a report submitted through a Danish nongovernmental 
organization working in Tallinn, the U.N. Human Rights Committee charged 
with studying compliance of states that are party to the International 
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights noted Estonia's genuine 
commitment "...to guarantee the basic human rights of all individuals 
under its jurisdiction" but also raised subjects of concern.  The 
Committee criticized the law for establishing "too many criteria," for 
the "stringency" of the language requirement, and for the lack of a 
remedy against an administrative decision rejecting a request for 
naturalization.  However, numerous international fact-finding 
organizations, such as the Finnish Helsinki Committee and the 
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, confirm that the 
citizenship law conforms to international standards. 
 
Bureaucratic delays and the Estonian-language requirement are also cited 
as disincentives.  The Government, with assistance from abroad, has 
established language training centers.  Still, there is a lack of 
qualified teachers, financial resources, and training materials.  Some 
allege that the examination process, with a 75-to-90 percent passage 
rate, is arbitrary. 
 
The Government has deported a small number of illegal aliens, usually 
those caught in criminal acts.  By late September, some 20 illegal 
aliens were held as internees, pending deportation or a court order 
granting them residence.  In March the Government expelled Russian 
citizen and longtime resident of Estonia Pyotr Rozhok for repeated 
activities since 1989 against the Estonian State.  Rozhok was the 
representative of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Russian Liberal Democratic 
Party in Estonia.  His appeal to nullify the expulsion order had not 
been adjudicated at year's end. 
 
There are no legal impediments to women's participation in Government or 
politics.  Eleven of the 101 Members of Parliament are women, as were 2 
of the 14 government ministers who took office in April; the Cabinet 
formed in October had no women ministers. 
 
Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
The Government does not restrict the formation or functioning of human 
rights organizations.  In response to allegations of bad treatment of 
ethnic minorities, the President established a Human Rights Institute 
which first convened in 1992.  The Institute monitors human rights in 
Estonia and provides information to the international community.  It 
investigates reports of human rights violations, such as allegations of 
police abuse and inhuman treatment of detainees.  In addition, because 
of tensions surrounding the adoption of the elections law and the aliens 
law in 1993, the President established a round table composed of 
representatives of Parliament, the Union of Estonian Nationalities, and 
the Representative Assembly of the Russian Community. 
 
An analogous but independent round table meets in the county of East 
Virumaa in northeastern Estonia.  In addition, with start-up funding 
from the Danish Government, a nongovernmental legal information center 
in Tallinn provides free legal assistance to individuals--citizen and 
noncitizen alike--seeking advice on human rights-related issues. 
 
In the context of repeated Russian allegations of violations of the 
human rights of the noncitizen population, both the OSCE mission in 
Estonia and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities have 
declared that they could find no pattern of human rights violations or 
abuses in Estonia.  Although the Government previously had expressed 
concern about what it termed biased reporting by the OSCE mission, 
government relations with the mission were cordial. 
 
Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, 
disability, language, social status, or for any other reason.  The 
Government reports that no court cases charging discrimination have been 
filed. 
 
  Women 
 
Discussion of the role and situation of women was extensive during the 
year, especially around the time of the Fourth World Conference on Women 
in Beijing.  Violence against women, including spousal abuse, was the 
subject of increasing discussion and media coverage.  According to 
women's groups and law enforcement officials, family violence is not 
pervasive.  However, studies show that some 40 percent of crime goes 
unreported, including domestic violence.  Often, even when the police 
are called, the abused spouse declines to press charges. 
 
Women possess the same legal rights as men and are legally entitled to 
equal pay for equal work.  Nevertheless, the Minister of Social Affairs 
pointed out at the Beijing Conference that although Estonian women's 
average educational level was higher than men's, their average pay was 
lower, and the trend did not seem to be improving.  There continue to be 
female and male dominated professions.  Most women carry major household 
responsibilities in addition to comprising slightly more than one-half 
of the work force. 
 
  Children 
 
There is no pattern of societal child abuse, but a research project 
conducted by the nongovernmental Estonian Union for Child Welfare on 
children and violence at home and school found that a significant 
proportion of children had experienced at least occasional violence at 
home, in schools, or in youth gangs.  The Government's strong commitment 
to education is evident by its having given top priority to building and 
refurbishing schoolhouses.  The Government provides free medical care 
for children and subsidizes school meals.  In 1992 the Government 
adopted a Child Protection Law, patterned on the U.N. Convention on the 
Rights of the Child. 
 
  People with Disabilities 
 
The Constitution contains provisions to protect disabled persons against 
discrimination.  There is no legal discrimination against the disabled, 
and both the State and some nongovernmental organizations provide them 
with financial assistance.  However, little has been done to enable 
disabled people to participate normally in public life.  There is no 
public access law, but some effort to accommodate the disabled is 
evident in the inclusion of ramps at curbs on new urban sidewalk 
construction. 
 
  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
The OSCE mission to Estonia, established in 1993, continued to promote 
stability, dialog, and understanding between the communities in Estonia.  
In addition, the President's round table, also established in 1993, 
composed of Members of Parliament, representatives of the Union of 
Estonian Nationalities, and the Representative Assembly of the Russian 
Community, continued to work toward finding practical solutions to 
problems of noncitizens, as did the analogous but independent round 
table which met in the northeastern part of the country (see Section 4). 
 
A Law on Cultural Autonomy for citizens belonging to minority groups was 
adopted by Parliament and went into effect in 1993.  There is a 
tradition of protection for cultural autonomy going back to a 1925 law.  
In its November report on Estonia, the U.N. Human Rights Committee 
alleged that permanent resident noncitizens are excluded from "full 
participation in minority groups" since the definition of minorities in 
the Estonian law only encompasses national minorities.  The Government 
noted in turn that the law is an entitlement program to provide 
subsidies to cultural organizations run by citizens belonging to 
national minorities; all residents of Estonia are free to participate in 
the relevant organizations. 
 
Ethnic Russians total approximately 29 percent, and nonethnic Estonians 
as a whole about 37 percent, of the population of 1.5 million.  During 
the years of Estonia's forced annexation by the Soviet Union, large 
numbers of non-Estonians, predominantly ethnic Russians, were encouraged 
to migrate to Estonia to work as laborers and administrators.  They and 
their descendants now make up approximately one-third of the total 
population; about 40 percent of them were born in Estonia.  About 8 
percent of the population of the pre-1940 Republic was ethnic Russian. 
 
Noncitizens, especially ethnic Russians, continued to allege job, 
salary, and housing discrimination because of Estonian- language 
requirements.  Reflecting these allegations, the U.N. Human Rights 
Committee asserted that the written oath of conscience for applicants 
for public service may place "an unreasonable restriction on the right 
of access to public service without discrimination."  In response, the 
Government noted that the oath must be signed by citizens and 
noncitizens alike, and that it focuses on denying public service 
appointments to people who have served the secret services of any 
foreign government.  Concerning business or property ownership, Estonian 
law makes no distinction on the basis of citizenship other than for 
land.  Land ownership by noncitizens is decided by the Government; in 
practice, noncitizens may own the land underneath their real property.  
All legal residents of Estonia may participate equally in the 
privatization of state-owned housing. 
 
Estonian-language requirements for those employed in the civil service 
went into effect in 1993; the new law on public service as originally 
passed required state employees to be proficient in Estonian by the end 
of 1995.  In late December, Parliament amended the law on public service 
to allow noncitizen local and national government employees and 
employees without adequate Estonian to continue working until February 
1, 1997.  No noncitizens would be hired after January 1, 1996.  This 
amendment reflected the Government's awareness that in some sectors, the 
number of employees with inadequate Estonian language skills remains 
high.  There were no reports of people being dismissed for inadequate 
Estonian-language skills. 
 
The language office liberally grants extensions to persons who can 
explain their failure to meet their requisite competence level in 4 
years.  Estonian-language training is available but, some claim, too 
costly.  Representatives of ethnic Russian communities continued to ask 
for free language training; they also asserted that the language 
requirement for citizenship is too difficult.  The examination fee for 
either language test--for employment or citizenship--is 15 percent of 
the monthly minimum wage, although it is waived for the unemployed. 
 
In districts where the language of more than one-half of the population 
is a language other than Estonian, the inhabitants are entitled to 
receive official information in that language, and the local government 
may conduct business in that language, in accordance with appropriate 
legislation and a Government decision.  Despite these provisions, the 
Government rejected requests by the city councils of Sillamae and Narva 
in the mainly ethnic Russian northeast to use Russian for internal 
business.  One council was unofficially told that it could use Russian 
within a department but had to use Estonian in interdepartmental 
communications and official documents.  The other council was not 
officially notified of the reasons for rejection. 
 
Section 6  Worker Rights 
 
  a.  The Right of Association 
 
The Constitution provides for the right to form and join a union or 
employee association.  The Central Organization of Estonian Trade Unions 
(EAKL) came into being as a wholly voluntary and purely Estonian 
organization in 1990 to replace the Estonian branch of the official 
Soviet labor confederation, the All-Union Central Council of Trade 
Unions (AUCCTU).  Another trade union, the Organization of Employee 
Unions, split from the EAKL in 1993 and had 55,000 members in 1995.  
About one-third of the country's labor force belongs to one of the two 
labor federations. 
 
The law provides for the right to strike, and unions are independent of 
the Government and political parties.  There were no strikes in 1995; 
some worker demonstrations occurred to protest low salaries or poor 
working conditions.  The Constitution and statutes prohibit retribution 
against strikers.  Unions may join federations freely and affiliate 
internationally. 
 
  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
While Estonian workers now have the legally acquired right to bargain 
collectively, collective bargaining is still in its infancy.  The 
Government remains by far the biggest employer.  According to EAKL 
leaders, few collective bargaining agreements have been concluded 
between management and workers of a specific enterprise.  The EAKL has, 
however, concluded framework agreements with producer associations, 
which provide the basis for specific labor agreements.  The EAKL was 
also involved with developing Estonia's new Labor Code covering 
employment contracts, vacation, and occupational safety.  The Labor Code 
prohibits antiunion discrimination, and employees have the right to go 
to court to enforce their rights.  In 1993 a collective bargaining law, 
a collective dispute resolution law, and a shop steward law were 
adopted.  In 1994 EAKL officials reported that the courts reinstated a 
union official who alleged dismissal because of union activity. 
 
There are no export processing zones. 
 
  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the Labor 
Inspections Office effectively enforces this prohibition. 
 
  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The statutory minimum age for employment is 16 years.  Minors 13 through 
15 years of age may work with written permission of a parent or guardian 
and the local labor inspector, if working is not dangerous to the 
minor's health or considered immoral, does not interfere with studies, 
and if the type of work is included on a government-prepared list.  
Government authorities effectively enforce minimum age laws through 
inspections. 
 
  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
The Government, after consultations with the EAKL and the Central 
Producers Union, sets the minimum wage.  In September the Labor Union 
Federation and the Producers Union agreed to ask the Government to raise 
the monthly minimum wage from $36 to $62 (450 to 680 Estonian crowns).  
The minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a worker and family a 
decent standard of living.  About 3 percent of the work force receive 
the minimum wage.  The average monthly wage is $200 (about 2,200 
crowns). 
 
The standard workweek is 40 hours, and there is a mandatory 24-hour rest 
period in the workweek.  According to EAKL sources, legal occupational 
health and safety standards are satisfactory, but they are extremely 
difficult to implement in practice.  The National Labor Inspection Board 
is responsible for enforcement of these standards, but it has not been 
very effective to date.  In addition, the labor unions have occupational 
health and safety experts who assist workers in bringing employers into 
compliance with the legal standards.  Workers have the right to remove 
themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued 
employment. 
 
(###)

[end of document]

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