Nobody wants to take responsibility for foreigners working on construction sites

Kristjan Mitt, board member of the building firm Mitt & Perlebach, admits honestly: « I do not even know the laws regulating the registration of foreign labor». Yet Ukrainians and Georgians are working on the construction site of his firm as Postimees reported last week.

The same Georgians, who built apartment houses in Harku since the end of April and claim to have been cheated out of their salary, left Estonia early this week and began a bus ride back home. The travel money was allegedly received from the local Georgian community.

But the problem does not leave with the Georgians – a number of foreigners may still be working on construction sites and no one wants to take responsibility for them.

«We have no construction workers, I have never encountered it. I know only what the newspapers write about it that foreign labor must be registered. But how it is done – I do not know, I have never done it,» said Kristjan Mitt, who had no opinion about whether the main contractor should check whether the foreigners working on his building are allowed to work in Estonia in the first place.

«The registration should be done by the one who they work for, who pays their salary,» Mitt said and added that their subcontracts have been concluded with other Estonian enterprises. «We are responsible for all people we pay for, but we do not hire a single construction worker. This is how all main contractors do in Estonia today,» he said.

Thus the Georgians built houses for Mitt & Perlebach according to a complicated scheme involving no less than three subcontractors. The construction firm has a contract with the Estonian firm Seltronic Ltd for general construction work, which in turn has a contract for general construction with a Polish-registered firm Buffo Ehitus z.o.o. The latter uses the labor of yet another Polish company TVI Inc, which included the Georgians described an earlier article.

«I have a subcontract with the Polish firm and all the work is paid for,» assured Tauno Aru, board member of Seltronic Ltd. «My subcontractor's business is all right as well, but it has another subcontractor. I cannot check whether they have transferred salaries to workers or not,» Aru said.

No one can take responsibility

Who is responsible for registering the workers in Estonia and paying them fair and lawful salary if the subcontractor's subcontractor is located in Poland? «But it meets the Polish law! It is the Polish state which must be responsible, not Estonia,» said Aru, who claimed to know nothing about his subcontractor's contracts. «Why should I know it? I have done my work, paid all the taxes and everything is clear,» he said, adding that the cooperation agreement with the subcontractor stipulates that the Polish enterprise is responsible for the registration of labor.

Aru later mailed a legal text of analogous content as further explanation. «The legislation of the Republic of Estonia regulates who is responsible and to what extent if the employer has failed to pay salaries to posted workers. According to the regulation of the law, the employer (i.e. enterprise registered in a foreign country) is responsible for the salary of posted workers and its payment,» Aru's written response read.

The head of the Polish-registered Buffo Ehitus is Deniss Borodin, who is operating as entrepreneur in Estonia. «I have a contract with a Polish firm, where these Georgians work. Accordingly I transfer money every month, which the firm pays to its workers,» Borodin explained Postimees last week. Whether or not the Georgians had been registered to work in Estonia Borodin did not know, because «the Georgians were not actually his workers». He was no longer able to make contact with the Polish firm TVI Inc.

Police business

Mitt said that the main contractor is unable to check the personnel of all subcontractors. «We are building 20 houses right now, we have a couple of hundred subcontractors. Other subcontractors have foreign labor as well. Are we checking them? No, we do not register workers,» Mitt said and pointed out that construction sites all over Estonia are using many foreign workers.

«We expect them to be registered. The increasing number of foreign labor in construction sites in Estonia is a recent tendency. They mainly build the structures,» Mitt said and admitted that the construction sector has a lot more vacancies than available labor.

If the law should require in the future that the main contractor must check the subcontractors' foreign workers, it shall be done, Mitt admitted. «It has not been done so far. The construction sector does not like a gray area. This is a new subject and a solution will come, since the pressure on labor is great. It was only a matter of time before somebody writes an article,» Mitt said.

Jaano Vink, board chairman of the construction firm Nordecon AS, also said that matters concerning foreign labor tend to touch the main contractors more remotely than subcontractors, since the former usually do not hire a large number of workers. Vink said that Nordecon does not check with the police the record of every worker on its construction sites. He thought that it would be the task of government institutions.

«But contracts with subcontractors stipulate specifically and unequivocally the requirements of legality of their activities. If there is well-founded suspicion of violation, we can respond to a specific incident, which we have done. Besides unlicensed workers this concerns observing all other legal requirements,» Vink said.

Raivo Rand, supervisory board member of the building firm Rand ja Tuulberg, said that they as the main contractor are trying to check the background of foreign labor, although he said that their sites do not employ many aliens.

«There have not been very many foreign workers, although I know that their number is increasing,» said Kaupo Kolsar, head of Astlanda Ehitus. «We have long-term partners and they do not include many firms with high-turnover labor. But not every firm has steady partners and long-established relations,» Kolsar said and added that the construction market is varied.

The law permits

Jana Laane, adviser of the Ministry of the Interior department of citizenship and migration, said that in principle an entrepreneur operating in one EU member country is allowed to use citizens hired from third countries for work in another EU country, but in that case they should be registered as labor in Estonia. Posted workers must be registered at the Labor Inspectorate starting from the end of 2016 and that must be done by the employer or the firm subject to tax in the foreign country.

If the enterprise itself hires a foreigner for a short period, he must be registered at the Police and Border Guard Board and that can be done only by an employer registered in Estonia. Laane said that some employers evade that obligation.

«The employer must register short-term work of an alien legally residing in the country and he is obliged to observe the requirements of the Labor Act and the Aliens Act,» Laane said, agreeing that discovering the abuse or violation of the system and responding is a matter of state supervision.

The police organize raids to discover violations. A total of 18 joint raids with the Labor Inspectorate and the Tax and Customs Board have been carried out this year; the police participated in 350 raids last year.

«During targeted inspections the Labor Inspectorate identified 18 allegedly posted workers (aliens with Polish visa) regarding whom the procedure was continued. That means the Labor Inspectorate had not been informed about their posting or the procedure had to be handed over to the police due to suspicion of illegal residence,» Meeli Miidla-Vanatalu, deputy director of the inspectorate, commented the discoveries made this year.

As of the end of June the police have registered 180 violations related to the working conditions of foreign citizens.

Postimees wrote last week how Georgian citizens built apartment houses in Harku for several months, but nobody admitted being their employer. As they did not receive the promised salary, Denis Borodin said that their salary should be paid by the Polish enterprise TVI Inc which he was no longer able to contact. Although Borodin did not consider himself responsible for the Georgians, he promised to pay them the salary owed to the men.

Read other news on the city site of Tallinn.

responsibility foreignersworking constructionsites
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
No rates yet
I recommend
No recommendations yet


Post your comment to communicate and discuss this article.

Chairman of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and one of the owners of construction group Nordecon, Toomas Luman, finds that a prime ministerial candidate should first and foremost be able to answer the question of what will become of the demographic crisis in Estonia. The businessman sees controlled introduction of foreign labor as the solution. A digital construction cluster was created in Estonia a few years back to bring innovation to the s...
Last year saw 27,125 registered offenses, up 0.5 percent from the year before. Violent crime was up by 12 percent to 8,249 offenses. PHOTO: Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire / Press Association Images / Scanpix Growth was biggest for domestic violence – the police launched criminal proceedings in 3,607 cases that constitutes an increase of more than one-third – annual growth of 37 percent from 2,632 cases in 2017. At the same time, reports of domestic violence we...
TALLINN - Ahead of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, tens of thousands of British citizens have chosen the citizenship of some other country, but only one Brit has recently chosen an Estonian citizenship. Spokespeople for the Ministry of the Interior told BNS that only one British citizen submitted an application for Estonian citizenship last year and the applicant was also granted the citizenship. Before that, no Brits had soug...
TALLINN - Experts from Finland, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands highlighted the importance of decentralization and granting local governments greater decision-making powers at a conference titled "Strong local government -- strong state?" in Tallinn on Wednesday.  All Nordic countries have chosen a model granting local governments significant decision-making powers, thus the central government does not prescribe how local governments are to fulfill the...
The language learning application Drops by game developer Planb Labs, established in Estonia by Hungarian founders, was named Google Play's best app of 2018. With the number of downloads surpassing 10 million, Drops was named Google's app of the year as the revenue of Planb Labs, a company registered in Estonia, increased fivefold, CNBC said. The developer's revenue grew from €335,000 in 2017 to €1.7 million in 2018. The company's shareholders include Hung...
TALLINN - The Estonian Health Board has banned the distribution of chlorine dioxide, also marketed as the Miracle Mineral Supplement (MMS), the A-component of an unused product, meaning the sodium chlorite solution, must be taken to a hazardous waste collection facility. Ester Opik, head of the Health Board's North regional department, said that the banning of the distribution of the product was caused by the fact that MMS, distributed as a cosmetics produ...
Nature cannot abide a vacancy, as the saying goes. If just one year ago, Estonia was battling the sale of MMS and the practice of giving it to children, a new “miracle cure” called Advanced TRS has appeared on the market now. Even though the make-up of the substance is different, the promise to cure autism and cleanse the body of heavy metals, which kind of extreme detox is accompanied by severe side-effects, sounds all too familiar. TRS is recommended to...
Allied NATO battalions will soon mark two years serving in the Baltics. They have worked better than expected but would need prepositioned heavy weaponry and a functional contingency plan in case of a crisis, a report by the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) finds. “We do not know how Russia would have acted had we not welcomed allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in 2017. I’m afraid they would have tested our resolve,” one of...
The time of filing income tax returns is nearly upon us. The new income tax system, in effect since last year, will obligate many women who went on maternity leave toward the end of the year to make additional income tax payments, while those who give birth in the middle or at the beginning of the year have no such obligation. What this means is that some women will owe the state simply for giving birth “at the wrong time”. Laura Roop, who went on maternit...