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European Employment Observatory
Article on Undeclared Work
from SYSDEM Correspondent
(Update of EEO Review: Autumn 2004)
Undeclared work and policy in Estonia
Updated version 21.05.2007

Reelika Leetmaa

This paper updates the article on undeclared work in Estonia published in the European Employment Observatory Spring Review 2004. The core definition of informal employment (see the definitions by OECD 2004, p.236) is predominantly used while talking about undeclared work in Estonia. In broad terms this means that the focus is on wholly undeclared work (both the employment status and earnings are concealed), under-declared work (where employers pay taxes only on the minimum wage, paying the remaining salary “under the table”) and tax evasion on the earnings of the self- The most comprehensive assessment on the size and nature of undeclared work in Estonia can still be found by Renoy et al (2004). The estimates provided by the report rely on the calculations of the Statistical Office of Estonia (ESA), which are based on the Commission Decision on Exhaustiveness of 22 February 1994. In addition, the survey data on underreported wage income is presented. Also, the main results of the recent study on tax evasion in Estonia by Kriz et al are briefly discussed below. The second part of the article gives an overview on the policies recently taken to combat the undeclared work in Estonia. The National Reform Programme for 2005-2007 aims at „improving the cooperation between the Labour Inspectorate and other supervisory agencies to reduce the negative impact of competitive advantages caused by undeclared labour relations and work environment and developing the principles of preventive nature aimed at facilitating more balanced labour relations”. In addition, several other developments have worked towards reducing the undeclared work, eg tax reforms and promoting e-services.
Prevalence of undeclared work in the economy
The report by Renoy et al (2004) compares the extent of unreported work in eight “new” EU countries and 15 “old” members across EU countries and relies on individual case studies. According to the report in Estonia the share of the informal economy in GDP during 1997- 2001 has decreased to around 7-8% (see Table 1). This is slightly higher compared to the EU where the respective share was around or below 5% of GDP with the exception of Italy and Greece. In comparison with the new EU members, Estonia (together with the Czech Republic and Slovakia) belong to the group of countries where the share of undeclared economy is lowest (around 8-13% of GDP) (Renoy et al 2004). Table 1. Share of informal economy in Estonian GDP, %
Similarly, the share of undeclared employment in total employment decreased during 1997- 2001 from the level of 8.0% to 6.1%. (Purju et al 2004) The economic activities with the highest share of employment in the informal economy in 2001 were (Purju et al 2004, authors’ calculations): - Community, social and personal service activities (21%); - Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and personal and - Real estate, renting and business activities (13%); - Agriculture, hunting and forestry (9%). The share of males and females engaged in undeclared work is equal. However, there are clear differences in economic activity which reflect the overall gender composition of sectors. Males dominate in agriculture, hunting and forestry and construction, while females are mostly concentrated in health and social work, hotels and restaurants and education. (Purju et The Estonian Institute of Economic Research (EKI) carries out annual population surveys on undeclared wages or so-called “envelope wages” in Estonia since 1999. While in 1999-2002 the share of respondents receiving undeclared wages was observed, since 2002 the data on employees is available (see table 2). The results of these surveys indicate that the share of persons receiving envelope wages regularly or sometimes has declined from 15% in 2002 to 11% in 2006. Most of the persons receiving envelope wages are young (below 30 years of age), with low education and low income per family member. However, while in previous years the envelope wages were dominant in temporary or additional jobs; in 2006 the majority of workers (63%) received envelope wages from their primary employer. Usually the envelope wages are paid on the top to the declared wage income. According to the estimates of the Estonian Institute of Economic Research on average the tax loss due to the undeclared wages was 2,2 billion kroons in 2006 (about 3% of total government tax revenues). (Estonian Public attitudes towards undeclared work have in general become less tolerant during recent years. The share of people who disapprove of undeclared payments increased from 57% in 2000 to 85% in 2006. The most important reasons of disapproval are (Estonian Institute of - being unfair with respect to other taxpayers and enterprises; - leading to lack of public finances which constrain the supply of public services; - leading to difficulties with obtaining loan from bank; - leading to insufficient financing of the social sector. The results of the Working Life Barometer (WLB) Survey on the share of wage earners receiving envelope wages are in line with the results of the EKI. According to WLB data the share of employers receiving envelope wages regularly and temporarily was 19% in 1998 and 9% in 2005. On average the share of undeclared income in total income is 44%. (Working The paper by Kriz et al (2007) analyses the characteristics of individuals who evade payroll and income taxation in Estonia. The authors estimate logit models on three different cross- sectional datasets – surveys by the Estonian Institute for Economic Research; compliance data from the audits of individuals by the Estonian Tax and Customs Board and the Labour Force Surveyes. The results indicate that payroll and income tax evasion can mostily be found in small firms and construction and agricultural sectors. „Evasion is more common among individuals who work part-time, are of non-Estonian ethnicity, have relatively short education, earn a low income and are men. Tax evasion is more frequent among the young and the elderly than among the middleaged. There are clear regional differences. The overall picture is that the relatively disenfranchised are most likely to evade payroll and income In sum, the different datasets seem to indicate that the share informal economy including undeclared wage income has been decreasing in Estonia during the last decade. The share of undeclared economy in Estonia is higher compared to the “old” EU members, but one of the lowest in among the new ones. The reasons behind the declining share of undeclared work include general economic development, economic integration with EU, reforms of the social security system and less tolerant public attitudes towards undeclared activities (for more detailed discussion see European Employment Observatory Spring Review 2004).
Measures taken to combat undeclared work
To combat undeclared work policymakers have focused on both encouraging formal work by reducing taxes, relating social insurance benefits to individual contributions and increasing sanctions and controls. An important part of the policy to combat undeclared work has been the creation of relatively simple regulations for businesses including the development of e- services and avoiding over-regulation in the labour market to ensure its flexibility and efficient functioning. The main elements of the policy such as employment protection legislation, business regulations, tax measures, social security system and sanctions are briefly Outdated employment protection legislation may induce undeclared employment and Employment protection legislation is considered one of the main reasons behind undeclared work (see OECD (2004), p. 255). Employment protection rules in Estonia are determined by the Employment Contracts Act, which came into force already in 1992 and is currently outdated in many ways, eg missing regulation for temporary work agencies. The debate on the new Employment Contracts Act, which would allow more flexibility, has been going on for several years already. The draft of the new Employment Contracts Act was discussed in the Parliament since January 2004, but was abandoned in April 2005 when the new Government came into power. According to the National Reform Program 2005 the new Employment According to Eamets et al (2004) the overall strictness of EPL in Estonia is slightly above the EU-15 average level. While the usage of regular contracts is much more restrictive in Estonia, the usage of temporary contracts is much less restricted. The main reason for the low value of the index for temporary contracts can be explained by the the lack of regulations on the use of temporary work agencies common in EU countries. The regulation of collective dismissals is also stricter in Estonia than the EU average. However, relatively strict EPL in Estonia is counterbalanced by the poor enforcement of legislation (Eamets, 2004). According to the Labour Inspectorate one of the most common violations of the Employment Contract Act is the absence of written employment contracts. In 2005 the share of employees without formal employment contract was 1,2% of the total number of employees in the firms examined, which is by 0,4% more than in 2004 (Tööinspektsioon, 2006). In Estonia the employment contracts may also be concluded orally if the term of the contract is less than two weeks. However, it has been argued by the Estonian Labour Inspectorate that oral contracts have encouraged undeclared work, because it makes workplace inspectors harder to detect de facto longer-term employment contracts (Narusk 2004).
The share of people working with an oral contract is low and has decreased. According to
labour force survey data only 1.9% of the wage earners worked on the basis of an oral agreement in 2006. In 2000 the respective share was 3.8% and in 2003 2.3%. The share was higher in rural areas than urban areas (3.4% vs 1.4%) and for men than women (3% vs 1%). To avoid relatively strict employment protection rules employers increasingly prefer contracting self-employed persons instead of employees. The number of self-employed persons who are dependent on one employer for their income or so called “economically dependent workers” has increased in recent years, especially in certain sectors of the economy, eg construction. Self-employed persons in Estonia are considered to be entrepreneurs and their social protection is much lower compared to the regular employee. They must file and pay their taxes, including social and income tax, which are filed and paid by the employer for the regular employee. Furthermore, self-employed persons are not eligible to benefits connected to social tax contributions, eg parental benefits and old-age retirement pension and are not covered by the unemployment insurance system which is obligatory for employees. Hence, it is cheaper for the employer to hire self-employed persons. (Kallaste, 2007) In 2006, the Tax and Customs Board took measures to distinguish the actual self-employed from economically dependent workers. It was decided that a service contract is not consistent with its content when a self-employed person continues to work under the control of a single employer. In October 2006, some 1,700 self-employed persons could be classified as economically dependent workers, according to the Tax and Customs Board. In such a case, the Taxation Act1 gives the tax authority the right to regard the business income of that self- employed person as an employee income. In other words, the Tax and Customs Board can decide to treat the incomes of economically dependent workers as salaries and not as business gains; therefore, they will be taxed accordingly. Consequently, no deductions that are typical for business gains can be made from the incomes of this type of self-employed person. In addition, the employer may end up having to pay the obligatory social tax contributions for the self-employed person. (Kallaste, 2007) Impact of minimum wage on undeclared work negligible The only collective agreement, which covers all employees in Estonia is minimum wage agreement. According to the Wages Act, the national minimum wage is determined annually by government decree after the central organisations of trade unions and employers have reached consensus about its level for the next year. Pursuant to the Collective Agreements Act, the national minimum wage is compulsory to all employees working in Estonia and to all employers as defined in the Employment Contracts Act. In 2001 the social partners concluded a long-term wage agreement, according to which the minimum wage will increase to 41% of the average wage in 2008. However, it is unlikely that this level will be achieved. Minimum wage has increased constantly during the previous years and was 32% of the national average wage in 2006 (see figure 1). Compared to the other EU countries with statutory minimum wages, only Slovakia, Lithuania and Latvia have lower minimum wages than Estonia. The ratio of minimum wage to national average wage in EU ranges from 30-50 The impact of minimum wages on employment depends on the share of workers directly influenced by it. The share of full time employees on minimum wage has been slightly decreasing and was only 4.8% in 2005 in Estonia (see figure 1). This is also rather low compared to the EU countries. For example, in Luxembourg, France; Latvia and Lithuania, the respective share is above 11%. Low level of minimum wage coupled with low share of employees on minimum wage seems to indicate that the impact of minimum wage on Figure 1. Employees on the minimum wage and minimum wage ratio to average wage in Estonia
The only study available on the impact of minimum wage on employment in Estonia concludes that the increases in the minimum wage in the second half of the 1990s “had a negative effect on the employment of workers directly influenced by it, e.g. workers whose wages in the period prior to the increase of the minimum wage fell between the old and the new level of the minimum wage”. (Rõõm, 2003) Improving legal and administrative environment for firms and individuals using e- One of the aims of economic policy has been the development of a business environment promoting entrepreneurship and initiative. Particularly good practise in Estonia, which could be recommended also to the other EU members states is using the IT solutions for providing In October 2006, the Government approved Estonian Enterprise Policy Development Plan for 2007-2013, which establishes specific guidelines for enterprise development during the next seven years. Among others, the plan includes a "Entrepreneur's Law" action plan, aimed at analyzing and simplifiying the current legislation regulating entrepreneurship such as corporate law, economic administration law, building and planning law, employment law, legal assistance etc. One of the first activities carried out in the framework of „Entrepreneur’s Law”, was the adoption of amendments to the Commercial Code and other related legislations, which enable company registration in two hours since January 2007. This expedited procedure applies initially to the first registration of private limited companies, sole proprietors, generalpartnerships and alterations of the registry data of sole proprietors and companies (including public limited companies and commercial associations). Under the expedited procedure, required data can be submitted to the registrar via Internet without notary procedures. The persons are identified and operations are made using an ID card and a digital signature. According to the Ministry of Justice, one fifth of the enterprises were registered electronically during the first two month. In November 2006 the Government approved the "Estonian Information Society Development Plan 2007–2013", which improves business environment and access to public services. The draft's proposed objective is the development of an information society involving all members of the society and development of a competitive economy, where existing and potential ICT solutions can be used to achieve higher productivity and According to the Global Information Technology Report prepared by the World Economic Forum since 2001, Estonia ranked among the top 20 performers in 2006-2007. Furthermore, regarding the availability of e-services Estonia was on the first position. For example, since 1999 e-Tax Board enables tax-payers (both enterprises and individuals) to fill-in and file tax returns and to receive information on their tax liabilities and account balances on-line (pre- filled declarations). In 2006 82% of the declarations were submitted electronically, in previous years the respective shares were 76% and 59%. Also, the firms can present their annual reports electronically since 2002. (Estonian Tax and Customs Board 2007) Developments in tax and benefit system likely to work towards lowering undeclared work with Despite of the fact that, in general, the tax burden on the economy is low in Estonia compared to EU countries, surveys indicate that high labour taxes are the main reasons for undeclared or under-declared work are (Estonian Institute of Economic Research 2007). The share of total taxes (including social security contributions) was 32.6% of GDP in 2004, placing Estonia 21st among the EU 25 countries (European Commission 2006, p. 215). The low general tax level is, however, mainly due to low corporate income taxes; implicit tax rate on labour was 37,6% , putting Estonia 12th among EU-25. The Estonian tax system is a simple proportional tax system. The unique income tax rate is applied on labour and personal capital income taking account basic allowance and a few tax deductions. Payroll taxes are also proportional: 33% social insurance tax (comprised of 20% for pension insurance and 13% for health insurance), and unemployment insurance payments (0.3% employers’ contribution and 0.6% employees’ contribution in 2007). Employees who have joined the second pension pillar (obligatory for those born after 1983) pay an additional 2 % of the gross salary to the personal pension account. Unlike some EU countries, there is no provision for lower contribution rates to be applied at low earnings levels. Neither is there an upper ceiling for social insurance contributions. Social tax contributions are personalised since 1999 and many benefits are directly related to personal contributions and hence give incentives to be employed formally. In recent decade, there have been major changes in the pension system, unemployment benefits scheme, and parental benefits scheme (for more detailed discussion see European Employment Observatory Spring Review 2004) and personal contributions to the system now have a major role in determining the size of the benefits. To reduce labour and capital costs and to encourage employment, the personal income tax rates are decreasing from 26% in 2004 to 20% in 2009, simultaneously the basic monthly tax allowance has increased from 1400 EEK in 2005 to 2000 EEK in 2007. The new government has proposed to decrease the income tax rate further to 18% and increase basic allowance to 3000 EEK by 2011. The reductions in tax revenues are compensated by increases in excise Also, the minimum tax base for social tax has increased during last years and is expected to be equal to minimum wage by 2009, forcing also self-employed people to declare larger share Overall the tax burden (share of taxes on total labour cost) on minimum wage and average wage has remained relatively stable during last ten years (see figure 2). 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Figure 2. Tax wedge on minimum wage and average wage in Estonia
Source: Statistics Estonia, calculations by PRAXIS The Estonian benefit system creates a few situations were there is little incentives for low- wage earners to enter formal employment. The unemployment system and the early retirement scheme discourage to find formal low-wage or part-time employment as even a smallest amount of labour earnings results to total withdrawal of benefits, resulting more than 100% marginal effective tax rates in low range of earnings. Also when combining parental benefits with labour earnings, the formula creates non-linearities that discourage receiving earnings in the medium range of earnings. The subsistence benefit system guarantees a minimum income for households simultaneously creating marginal effective tax rate equal 100% for low-wage earners in certain family types. The study by Võrk and Paulus (2006) using a tax-benefit microsimulation model for 2004 suggested that there are still only about 2% of inactive or unemployed people who really face 100% or higher marginal tax rate when starting to work formally with the minimum wage. Cooperation and control activities to fight against undeclared wage income Combating undeclared wages has been the priority of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board already since 1999. In 2002-2003 the focus of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board was on company inspections and in 2004 on strengthening the cooperation between different institutions and sending the notice to the firms. Also media campaigns by the Ministry of Social Affairs as well as Tax Board were carried out in 2003-2004 (for more detailed information see European Employment Observatory Spring Review 2004). The current section focuses on initiatives, which have taken place since 2005 and is largely based by In broad terms, the activities by the Estonian Tax and Customs Board can be divided to 1) different cooperation agreements mainly aimed information exchange and increasing public To increase public knowledge about the negative consequences of undeclared wages Tax and Customs Board, Estonian Employers' Confederation, the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions, the Association of Municipalities of Estonia, the Association of Estonian Cities, the Labour Inspectorate, the Estonian Labour Market Board, the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Social Insurance Board and the Health Insurance Fund signed a declaration to combat undeclared wages in Estonia in January 2005. The declaration foresees several activities aimed at information exchange between different authorities, awareness raising, updating the existing legislation, strengthening cooperation between the Tax and Customs Board and enterprises etc (for more detailed information see for example Eamets et al 2005). The other example on cooperation activities is the recent cooperation agreement between the Union of Estonian Automobile Enterprises and Tax and Customs Board signed in March 2007. The aim of the agreement is to detect employers in the sector paying undeclared wages to their workers. The parties agreed to exchange information on wage payments and to intensify cooperation in order to promote honest tax behavior. (Kallaste et al 2007) In addition, the construction sector employers have highlighted the problem of undeclared wages. In representation of the sector’s employers, the Estonian Employers’ Confederation is also cooperating with the Tax and Customs Board to reduce the incidence of undeclared wages. (Helm, 2006; Kallaste et al 2007) Regarding the control activities, in 2005 Tax and Customs Board analysed a sample of Estonian companies and their tax behavior. As a result, 1,000 companies with very low wage rates compared with other enterprises in the sector received a notice (as also in 2004) from the board giving them a chance to adjust their tax behavior without inspections and possible punishment for tax fraud. The construction sector was the main target area, but other sectors were also investigated, namely: hotels and restaurants, retail and wholesale, real estate and agriculture. Six months after receiving the notice from the board, about half of the enterprises amended their tax behavior and raised the wages of their employees. This tax adjustment increased the state budget by EEK 43 million ( 2.7 million), which included EEK 36.4 million ( 2.3 million) for social security contributions and EEK 6.6 million ( 421,000) for personal income tax. (Helm, 2006; Kallaste et al 2007) Company inspections are another means of tackling undeclared wages. In 2005, 130 inspections were carried out in order to identify employers paying undeclared wages, and 154 cases concerning undeclared wages were closed. As a result of these inspections, EEK 30.3 million ( 1.9 million) worth of unpaid taxes was recouped from businesses. The Tax and Customs Board has stated that the activities pursued so far to combat undeclared wages have been productive. In other words, the proportion of legally paid wages has increased alongside the tax funds. (Helm 2006; Kallaste et al 2007) In addition to the Tax and Customs Board, local governments have also taken measures to tackle the problem of undeclared wage. For example, in 2006, Narva city government, in northeast Estonia, initiated a project to combat undeclared wages in the region. Notices were sent to 400 companies in the region, where the average wage was considerably lower than in other similar enterprises in the same area. The city government asked these employers to raise employees’ wages and to form an action plan to do so. However, many employers opposed the initiative, refusing to cooperate with the city government. (Kallaste et al 2007) Conclusions

The share of undeclared labour in Estonia has decreased in recent years and was around 7-8%
of GDP in 2001. Undeclared work in Estonia can be mainly found in the community, social and personal services, wholesale and retail trade and repair. As compared to the new Member States of the EU, the level of undeclared labour in Estonia is one of the lowest. However, it still remains relatively high compared to the “old” Member States. Tax evasion is the main One of the dominant forms of undeclared work in Estonia is under-declared work or the so- called phenomenon of “envelope wages”. However, the share of employees receiving undeclared income has decreased during the last 5 years and was around 9-11% in 2005-2006. Also, public attitudes towards undeclared work have become less acceptable according to To reduce the share of undeclared work, the Government actions have focused on wide ranges of polices. Out of these policies the most remarkable example, which could also be recommended for the other member states is reducing legislative and administrative burdens for firms and individuals with the help of e-services. Other policies, which have worked towards reducing the undeclared work, include lowering taxes; social security reforms, whereby personal contributions have a major role in determining the size of the benefits; and the control activities undertaken by the Tax and Customs Board. Updating the Employment Contracts Act, which came into force already in 1992 remains an important challenge for Estonia. The current legislation, which is outdated in many ways, may induce undeclared employment and increasing use of self-employed with lower social protection than regular

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Source: http://www.eu-employment-observatory.net/resources/reviews/EstoniaUDW2007.pdf

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