The Employment Registry is a unique solution for gathering employment data that keeps the amount of employment information which needs to be submitted to the minimum, whilst ensuring the maximum quality of the collected data. Through this Registry, public sector organisations receive information necessary for various services and processes, such as applying for unemployment benefits or health insurance or reducing the amount of unaccounted labour.
The collaboration enabled the actors to understand holistically how employment information is used to provide public services. They used this knowledge to design a digital solution to reduce administrative burdens for employees, employers and public sector organisations. The project was officially initiated in 2013 and implemented in July 2014.
Aims and scope
The Estonian Tax and Customs Board collaborated with the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund, Labour Inspectorate, Estonian Health Insurance Fund, Social Insurance Board and other stakeholders to address their pre-existing fragmented employment datasets. Though the project initially drafted by the Tax and Customs Board was aimed towards high-risk sectors, it eventually evolved into an all-encompassing solution for all the relevant public sector organisations through collaboration.
Prior to the Registry, individuals were required to provide most of the information for different services themselves with public sector organisations possessing limited overview regarding its validity. The issue of unaccounted labour affected tax revenues, the assurance of different social guarantees (i.e. unemployment benefits and health insurance), supervision of employment relations and other factors. Through the Registry, all the necessary information regarding employment has been gathered to a single location, where different public sector organisations can access it for initiating and conducting different services. Employers are required to make entries through the e-Tax and Customs Board portal to register the employee or suspend/terminate their employment.
The implementation of the Registry enabled processes to be automated by providing the relevant information without requiring the employees or employers to submit information more than once. Additionally, the amount and quality of collected information gave new opportunities for other organisations, like identifying NEET to provide them specific support services. The Employment Registry has resulted in an estimated additional 90 million euros of tax revenue and 21 000 newly registered employees during the year following its implementation. The Registry has been updated consistently as the Tax and Customs Board looks for new opportunities to make use of the solution, such as the introduction of new UI in 2016 and new data fields for Statistics Estonia in 2019.
Main collaboration challenges and conditions for successful collaboration
The collaboration faced challenges related to the broad scope of the Employment Registry, engaged various actors and brought a number of changes which happened throughout the project:
- Different perceptions of how to use the Employment Registry
Different public sector organisations intended to use the Registry in various ways, which lead to differing opinions regarding the design of the tool and the rules that should be followed while collecting data.
- Short timeframe of the official project
The Registry had to be implemented within a very short timeframe. As a result, the project had to develop both the technical and legal frameworks concurrently, which limited the possible scope of the project and increased pressure on the engaged actors.
- Changes in responsibilities and obligations
The design of the Registry required the Tax and Customs Board to take on more responsibility in order to ensure the timely provision of data to other organisations, especially in time-sensitive cases, such as the provision of health insurance. This additional responsibility awarded asymmetrical power to the Tax and Customs Board due to the ability to access data, their effective monopoly when it comes to technical development and communication regarding the Employment Registry.
The success of the Employment Registry has its source in combination of different factors, from actions taken by the organisations themselves to the particular context of the Estonian public sector:
- Existing context providing a beneficial environment
The existing national digital infrastructure and the extent of informal connections that individuals possessed from previous collaborations surrounding employment shaped the collaboration. Not only were the technological problems limited, but a more intimate environment was established from the outset, enabling opportunities for brainstorming and sharing ideas.
- Engagement of important actors from the start
The engagement of the Unemployment Insurance Fund and Labour Inspectorate from the start enabled the Employment Registry to incorporate different ideas and encourage active participation. This approach led to the active participation of leaders from involved organisations and the engagement of external stakeholders to provide support to the working groups. Furthermore, this enabled the actors to reach an understanding about the framing of the Employment Registry as an ever-evolving project to be developed according to the ideas and involvement of all relevant actors.
- Reputation and role of the Tax and Customs Board as a leader
The Tax and Customs Board had already built itself a good reputation based upon a history of successful projects, which gave them the authority to take the lead in the collaboration. The confidence of the Tax and Customs Board allowed them to provide a strong mandate and to establish legitimacy for the Project Manager, tasked with maintaining the scope of the project and adhering to the short timeframe.
Implications and lessons learned
The successful implementation of the Employment Registry highlights the importance of several factors:
- Changes in the context of the Estonian public sector
The increasing urgency of unaccounted labour problem and the advancement of digital infrastructure enabled actors with the necessary motivation and support to initiate the Employment Registry.
- Informal connections between individuals
Informal connections that individuals from the Tax and Customs Board, Unemployment Insurance Fund and Labour Inspectorate possessed from previous collaborations enabled them to engage in the project with little additional effort. It was helpful in identifying actors which were the most motivated to actively contribute to the development of the Registry. However, it also resulted in the feeling of exclusion among some of the actors due to difficulties in maintaining sufficient communication.
- Importance of the reputation and capability of the Tax and Customs Board
The Tax and Customs Board’s intentions to see the Registry implemented were clearly visible from the beginning, which built confidence among stakeholders and motivated them to actively contribute to the project. This was facilitated through the existing reputation of the Tax and Customs Board and consistently upheld by their actions. This furthermore enabled leadership to ensure a supportive environment for the working group.
- Joint vision formulation at the start of the project
The engagement of stakeholders in formulating a joint vision at the start of the collaboration enabled them to elaborate on their position with other stakeholders, and increased understanding among the actors. This proved crucial not only in determining the long-term vision of the Employment Registry, but also in keeping the participants motivated thanks to a clear understanding of the possible benefits and the extent of changes necessary to implement.
- Clear role designation and the role of a Project Manager in maintaining adherence to obligations
The clear role of the Project Manager in monitoring of the project enabled all stakeholders to comprehend how and to what extent they needed to contribute. This prevented the initiative from setting unrealistic objectives in its initial stages, primarily focused on proving the project’s viability. This clarity enabled the actors to fully understand the value of their participation in the project.
Estonian Tax and Customs Board (2020). Töötamise registreerimine.
Ministry of Finance (2014a). Töötamise registreerimine sai riigikogu heakskiidu.
Ministry of Finance (2014b). Seletuskiri maksukorralduse seaduse muutmise seaduse eelnõu juurde.
Lember, V., Kattel, R., and P. Tõnurist (2018). Technological capacity in the public sector: the case of Estonia. International Review of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 84, No. 2, 214-230.
State Information Systems Authority (2019). Töötamise register(TÖR) available here.
About the Author
Steven Nõmmik, Tallinn University of Technology