Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Language requirements for Bolts and Wolts

The requirement to speak Estonian is virtually nonexistent when it comes to taxi and ridesharing drivers. Estonian skills are largely overlooked also regarding food couriers, cashiers and bus drivers – front-line staff in almost all fields where foreign labor is active. Taxi drivers often do not understand when you ask for an additional stop nor couriers directions to your location.

Director General of the Language Inspectorate Ilmar Tomusk says that problems begin with the question of who is responsible for compliance.

Things are clear at first glance. The Language Act and Consumer Protection Act are explicit in stating that the consumer has the right to information and service in Estonian. That is why employees who speak directly to clients must speak enough Estonian to be able to successfully perform their tasks. The required proficiency level for couriers is A2, while taxi drivers and cashiers must have the B1 proficiency.

Rental labor requirements

The government’s language requirements regulation is equally clear in stipulating that the employer is responsible for making sure employees who are required to speak the official language do.

“The labor market has a great number of rental labor providers supplying hotels, restaurants and supermarket chains with staff. Such workers are employed by the rental labor company that can be registered abroad. We cannot hold a foreign company accountable for what their employees do here,” Tomusk explained.

Hence the counteroffensive. The inspectorate has made a proposal to the Ministry of Education and Research to complement the regulation by requiring employers who are already responsible for their employees’ language proficiency to also vouch for the language skills of rental labor doing the same work.

“A client does not have to know whether they are being helped by a salaried worker or a rental worker and are entitled to service in Estonian either way,” Tomusk said.

The situation is similar for ridesharing taxis. The Language Act requires a taxi driver to have B1 Estonian proficiency. Tomusk said it is regrettable the taxi drivers’ language requirement was abolished with the 2016 Public Transport Act, meaning that drivers can start offering the service without speaking the official language. Their language proficiency only becomes an issue if a client files a complaint.

The most peculiar aspect is that Bolt maintains they are an information society services company and not a taxi firm. “When a taxi looks like a taxi, operates like a taxi and has a driver who looks like and works as a taxi driver, they should be able to offer the service in accordance with requirements irrespective of what someone calls it based on the level of IT solutions involved,” Tomusk said.

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