At today’s plenary sitting, the Riigikogu concluded the first reading of two Bills that will ensure additional protection to people who work on ships.
The Bill on Amendments to the Seafarers Employment Act and the Maritime Safety Act (56 SE), initiated by the Government, will transpose into Estonian law two European Union directives, and Estonian law will be brought into conformity with the amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention of the International Labour Organization (ILO) that were passed in 2016.
Under the Bill, shipowners will have to conclude seafarers’ employment agreements with persons working on fishing vessels of less than 24 metres in length. At present, ordinary labour law regulation applies to persons working under a contract of employment on board such fishing vessels. Seafarers’ employment agreement ensures additional protection to workers. For example, the shipowner must ensure regular food and the provision of medical care on the ship. Fishing vessel means a vessel used for commercial fishing.
The Bill will also establish a financial security system to compensate for both abandonment of crew members and for costs for crew members in respect of occupational accident or disease. All shipowners whose ships must have a maritime labour certificate (ships of 500 gross tonnage or over) must have sufficient financial security. Liability insurance, a bank guarantee or another security that enables compensation to be paid may be financial security.
The explanatory memorandum notes that the minister responsible for the area will establish by a regulation the principles for evaluating the sufficiency and calculating the amount of the security. The Estonian Maritime Administration will evaluate the sufficiency of security upon the issue of maritime labour certificates. All ships flying the Estonian flag that have a maritime labour certificate already have liability insurance.
Under an amendment to the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention, it is possible to extend an existing maritime labour certificate for up to five months upon expiry of the certificate. This is done where the ship has successfully passed the renewal inspection, but a new certificate cannot immediately be issued to the ship. Under the current law, there is no possibility to extend the certificate.
The Act enters into force pursuant to general procedure. Under the Bill, a transitional provision will be established under which employment agreements concluded with workers working on fishing vessels of less than 24 metres will be deemed to be seafarers’ employment agreements as of 1 January 2020. The employment agreements in force will have to be brought into conformity with the law by 31 December 2020.
The Bill on the Ratification of the Amendments of 2014 and 2016 to the Code of the Maritime Labour Convention of the International Labour Organization (75 SE), initiated by the Government, also passed the first reading.
The amendments of 2014 concern the obligation of the shipowner to have financial security for the event of abandonment of crew members and to cover contractual claims arising from occupational accident and disease. For example, liability insurance, a bank guarantee or another security that enables compensation to be paid may be financial security. For example, situations where the shipowner has left the seafarer without the necessary maintenance or has unilaterally severed their ties with the seafarer are deemed to be abandonment.
The amendments passed in 2016 concern the extension of maritime labour certificate in a situation where a maritime labour certificate expires and a new certificate cannot immediately be issued, but the ship has passed an inspection and it has been found to meet the necessary requirements for obtaining the certificate. In such a case, the validity of the maritime labour certificate can be extended by up to five months. Under the current law, there is no possibility to extend the certificate.
The amendments will affect in particular crew members and owners of ships flying the Estonian national flag and holding a maritime labour certificate, and the Estonian Maritime Administration. At the same time, the proposed amendments will have little impact because all ships holding a maritime labour certificate and flying the Estonian flag have P&I liability insurance, which covers the costs related to the repatriation and abandonment, and the injuries or death of crew members.
The Maritime Labour Convention was adopted on 23 February 2003 with the aim of establishing uniform principles to ensure decent working and living conditions for all seafarers. The Riigikogu ratified the Maritime Labour Convention on 23 February 2016, and it entered into force for the Republic of Estonia on 5 May 2017. Ninety-two member states of the ILO have ratified the Convention.
Two Bills were dropped from the proceedings of the Riigikogu:
The Bill on Amendments to the Environmental Charges Act (41 SE), initiated by the Social Democratic Faction. According to the Bill, at least 25 per cent of the environmental charges received into the state budget were intended to be distributed to the Ida-Viru County programme and the implementation of the activities specified therein. According to the explanatory memorandum, the amendment would bring around 20 million additional euro a year to the region.
The explanatory memorandum notes that the Ida-Viru County oil shale sector pays to the state the majority of the environmental charges accrued into the state budget, but that is not improving the local living environment as a whole in Ida-Viru County at present. Estonian oil shale industry companies pay an estimated average of 70% of all environmental charges.
During the debate, Peeter Ernits (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) took the floor. On behalf of the faction, he moved to reject the Bill at the first reading.
51 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the motion and 31 were against. Thus, the motion was supported and the Bill was dropped from the legislative proceedings.
The Bill on Amendments to the Citizenship Act (40 SE), initiated by the Social Democratic Party Faction, was intended to provide for the possibility to apply for Estonian citizenship by naturalisation to children of under 15 years of age who were born in Estonia and whose parent or parents either have undefined citizenship or are third country nationals and resided permanently in Estonia before 20 August 1991. The Bill will abandon the requirement of a residence permit of a long-term resident as a condition for applying for Estonian citizenship. The requirement that the applicant stay in Estonia legally on the basis of a residence permit or right of residence will be maintained.
During the debate, Jevgeni Ossinovski (Social Democratic Party) took the floor and called on to support the Bill.
Faction Isamaa moved to reject the Bill at the first reading. 74 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the motion and nine were against. Thus, the motion was supported and the Bill was dropped from the legislative proceedings.
The deliberation of the first reading of a Bill was adjourned due to the end of the working hours of the plenary:
The Bill on Amendments to the Citizenship Act (37 SE), initiated by the Reform Party Faction, will allow multiple citizenship for Estonian citizens who have acquired Estonian citizenship by birth. The Bill also provides for the possibility of resumption of Estonian citizenship for persons who acquired Estonian citizenship before 26 February 1992 but who were forced to renounce it or were deemed to have ceased to be an Estonian citizen.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
(The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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