Overview of the Important Amendments Related to the Emergency Situation
The Parliament is conducting proceedings over a cluster draft act, which aims to amend 33 Acts due to the emergency situation. We have prepared an overview of the amendments that have an impact on businesses. For example, the state would like to extend the term of validity of various certificates and other documents as well as make changes to the regulation concerning foreign labour. Read about the changes and let us know what you think of the planned amendments.
Amendments to the Aliens Act
Under the emergency situation, the Government of the Republic has the ability to extend the term of short-term employment in Estonia. The applicable law generally allows working in Estonia for short periods of time for 365 days during 455 consecutive days, but according to the amendment, the Government of the Republic will have the right to extend it to up to 730 days during 913 consecutive days, i.e. two years during two and a half years.
The aliens who were unable to return to the country of origin and who have the legal basis to stay in Estonia can apply for a long-term visa from the Police and Border Guard Board after the emergency situation has passed.
The Aliens Act will be updated with a provision according to which the Police and Border Guard Board will have the right to terminate an alien’s stay in Estonia and void a long-term visa if the employment contract, another contract or activity expires or has expired and the main aim of the alien’s stay in Estonia is employment.
Reclaiming of salary support received from the Unemployment Insurance Fund in the emergency situation
Pursuant to the applicable Labour Market Services and Benefits Act, employers are required to repay the salary support fully if the employment relationship is terminated by the initiative of the employer before the expiry of the foreseen term. With the amendment the Unemployment Insurance Fund is given the right of discretion to waive the right to claim from an employer the sums used for providing labour market services, if the situation resulting in the claim has arisen in relation to the emergency situation. Employers will be obliged to justify that they were unable to perform the conditions of using the service due to the emergency situation.
Term for the obligation to submit a bankruptcy application is suspended for the period of the emergency situation
The management board of a legal entity is obliged to submit to the court a bankruptcy application within 20 days from the occurrence of insolvency. According to the draft act, such period is suspended for the period of the emergency situation and for two months after the end of the emergency situation. During that period a bankruptcy application cannot be filed by a creditor of a legal entity, except an employee who does not receive the salary compensation foreseen in the emergency situation.
Amendments related to the requirements for the environmental and integrated environmental permits
During the emergency situation, the Environmental Board may change the requirements for the environmental permit and integrated environmental permit that regulate the special use of water without having to follow all the requirements for the procedure of changing the permit set out in the General Part of the Environmental Code Act, Water Act and Industrial Emissions Act, if the performance of the requirements for the permit and observance of the requirements for the proceeding are not possible due to an objective hindrance during the period of the emergency situation. Implementing the amendments is limited with the period of the emergency situation or with up to 90 days after the end of the emergency situation.
Holders of the audit certificate, the validity of which expires during the period of the emergency situation, have the right to continue taking samples for water and potable water research in the areas of activity listed in the audit certificate, taking into account the requirements set forth in the Water Act. The validity of this is also is limited with the period of the emergency situation or not longer than 6 months after the end of the emergency situation.
The need to change the permit as a result of the emergency situation is not a need faced only by water operators, but also other holders of the environmental permit or integrated environmental permit (e.g. companies mining mineral resources, various industrial companies) who also have the obligation to follow monitor the limit values of emissions (including the related obligation to clean wastewater), but due to the disturbances in the supply of chemicals necessary to clean wastewater and closing of the laboratories that analyse water samples, it is impossible to fulfil these obligations.
Certificates of competency of professional drivers
The Road Transport Act is updated in a way that if the document verifying the competence of a professional driver expires during the period from 1 March to 30 November and the person is unable to take the necessary refresher training due to the current emergency situation, they may submit an application to the Road Administration to request a temporary document verifying his or her competence without a training. Such document is valid until 30 November of this year. In the event a driver carrying hazardous loads is not able to take ADR refresher training and pass an exam due to the current situation, they may also request a new temporary training certificate, which will be valid until 30 November. The amendment will allow professional drivers whose certificate of competence is about to expire, to carry on working with a company organising road transport. No state fee is charged for such temporary documents. The exception enters into force on the day following its publication in the State Gazette.
Certificate of competence of the safety advisor of a company involved in carriage of hazardous goods
The Chemicals Act is updated in a way that if the certificate of competence of a safety advisor expires during the period from 1 March to 1 November and due to the current emergency situation they are unable to take the necessary training and obtain the certificate, the safety advisor may submit an application to obtain a new temporary certificate, which is valid until 30 November 2020. The certificate is issued for the safety advisor by the Road Administration and in case of carriage by rail, by the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority. No state fee is charged for such temporary documents. The exception enters into force on the day following its publication in the State Gazette.
Validity of employee’s health certificate in the fields of activity that contribute to the spreading of communicable diseases is extended
According to the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act, employers are required to request from the person starting work a health certificate on health check regarding communicable diseases, if the peculiarities of work may contribute to the spreading of communicable diseases. The health certificate is required in areas of activity listed in Section 13(1) of the respective act, i.e. handlers of food, teachers, employees of childcare institutions, beauty and personal service providers that have immediate contact with clients etc.
The draft gives employers the opportunity to employ during the emergency situation, state of emergency or state of war people without health certificates, if necessary. Furthermore, people whose health certificate expires during the emergency situation can continue working. Health checks must be passed and a valid health certificate must be obtained within 90 days after the end of the emergency situation.
In order to ensure that safe conditions are ensured in these areas even during the emergency situation, employers are obliged to request from their employees a confirmation in a format that can be reproduced in writing regarding the fact that they are not ill with a communicable disease and they have no symptoms of a communicable disease. For that, an employer may prepare a questionnaire or use the health declaration form available on the website of the Health Board.
The amendments enter into force on the day following its publication in the State Gazette.
Health checks and health certificates of blasters, senior blaster and pyrotechnician
According to the Explosive Substances Act, a blaster, senior blaster and pyrotechnician have to pass a health check before commencing work as well as periodically during work, i.e. with certain intervals they need to pass new health checks. A health certificate is issued for the check. The draft act will establish an exception according to which a valid health certificate is not required if the health certificate expires during the period of the emergency situation or within 30 days from the end of the emergency situation. In such case, validity of certificate of competency is not suspended due to absence of a valid health certificate and workers can continue work at undertakings involved in organising blast works or fireworks without a valid health certificate for 30 days after the end of the current emergency situation. The exception enters into force on the day following its publication in the State Gazette.
Validity of the activity licence of land surveyors is extended
According to the amendment of the Land Cadastre Act that entered into force on 1.07.2018, the activity licence for land readjustment work is issued only to a natural person and the activity licences already issued to legal entities will no longer be valid from 1.07.2020. According to the amendment planned with the draft act, the term of validity of such licence is extended. Namely, if a licence issued before 1 July should expire now, this licence may be used as a basis for operating for another six months after the end of the current emergency situation. Thus, the final term of validity of the licences held by legal entities is extended as is the case also for the licences of natural persons that are about to expire. The amendment will enter into force under general terms, i.e. on the tenth day after its publication in the State Gazette.
Exceptions to the Railways Act to ensure continuation of traffic on railways
Pursuant to the procedure established on the basis of the Railways Act, a railway worker must pass periodical health checks with the frequency of 5, 3 or 1 year(s). The frequency depends on the age and profession. In order for railway workers to be able to continue performing their tasks in the conditions of the emergency situation where health certificates are not issued, an exception has been established, according to which a railway worker may perform their tasks even without a valid health certificate and the right to conduct a railway vehicle is not suspended due to the absence of a valid health certificate. A railway operator is obliged to ensure with available means and internal rules that the health status of an employee ensures safety of work on railway.
The exception is implemented also in relation to invitations: if due to the emergency situation, it is not possible to update the invitation, the competence of a person is considered verified based on the expired profession.
Communications undertakings must start informing the users of roaming services of risks
The Electronic Communications Act is updated in the way that communications undertakings would have a basis to process, in addition to the location data of their clients, also the location data of a person using roaming services in order to inform them of events that may pose a risk to their health and safety. Namely, a government agency may oblige a communications undertaking to notify, in addition to its clients, clients of foreign communications undertakings who are using the roaming service in Estonia (i.e. people who are temporarily staying in the mobile communications network of an Estonian communications undertaking. While at the moment, a communications undertaking may currently be obliged to do that and send instructions only by the Police and Border Guard Board or a rescue institution, the amendment will give this right to another government agency, head of the emergency situation or head of emergency works. There is a restriction according to which a communications undertaking may be obliged to notify only if it is unavoidably necessary, considering the circumstances.
The amendment enters into force on the day following its publication in the State Gazette and will be implemented retroactively from 12 March as by the decree of the head of the emergency situation, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications has been imposing the obligation on communications undertakings to notify their clients and users of the roaming service already since 12 March. The amendment may also be used for emergency situations in the future.
Ensuring availability of medicines
The State Agency of Medicines will have the right to temporarily restrict prescription of medicines and allow temporary exceptions in the Medicines Act as well as related requirements for handling medicines, requirements for clinical testing of medicines, requirements for presenting safety information of medicines and requirements for disseminating information during the emergency situation, state of emergency or state of war. In situations where the primary task is to ensure availability of medicines, it is justified to limit direct mailing and other methods of advertising medicines. Furthermore, there may be a need to restrict selling medicines in pharmacies (in terms of quantity) or impose restrictions on the wholesale level (may be given only to a medicinal institution).
Furthermore, keeping of a branch pharmacy of a general pharmacy is allowed in a city district of a city with more than 4,000 residents if the district is located geographically far from the centre of the city and there is a justified need for availability of medicines in this district. There may be different reasons for that, e.g. distance of the nearest pharmacy or demographic data (age of the residents) etc. Allowing a branch pharmacy to operate is no longer justified if a compliant general pharmacy is opened in the city district.
Local municipalities will have the chance to take larger loans
As a temporary measure, local municipality units will be allowed to take loans in larger volumes during 2020 and 2021. During these years, the net debt burden as of the end of a reporting year may be up to tenfold difference between the revenue from principal activities and expenses of principal activities (it is currently six-fold). In essence the draft act increases the ceiling of loans to approximately 1.7 billion euros instead of the current 1.2 billion. The aim of the amendment is to allow, in an emergency situation caused by the corona virus and the following period, the local municipalities to take larger loans to boost economy through investments. The amendment will enter into force under general terms, i.e. on the tenth day after its publication in the State Gazette.