|
You are here: Eurofound > EIROnline > Comparative Information > Trade union strategies to recruit new groups of workers > Bulgaria My Eurofound: Login or Sign Up   

Trade union strategies to recruit new groups of workers – Bulgaria

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

Trade union membership declined significantly in the years of economic transition. This development was triggered by several factors: a high unemployment rate, privatisation and restructuring of the economy, hostile employer attitudes and lower trust in trade unions. In 2007, 18% of Bulgarian employees were union members. However, there is a lack of reliable official statistics. Trade unions must reconsider their organising strategies and organisational structure.

1. Trade union membership and density rates: data and research

1.1 Please provide trade union membership and union density rates since 1990 (1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2007).

Trade union membership declined significantly in Bulgaria during the years of economic transition. This development was triggered by several factors: a decrease in employment of more than 1.2 million people, a high unemployment rate, privatisation and restructuring of the economy, hostile employer attitudes – especially in private enterprises – and lower trust in trade unions. However, it should be noted that, before the start of transition in late 1989, trade union membership – although formally voluntary – was compulsory in practice and union density was almost 100%.

There are no reliable official statistics on trade union membership in the country as a whole for the years required. Official data exist only for 1993, 1998 and 2007 when official censuses were conducted aiming to ascertain which trade unions correspond to the requirements for acquiring a nationally representative statute. As these data, particularly since 2003, only include organisations applying for representativeness status, they do not give a comprehensive picture either of the real number of trade union members or of the membership density rates (see table).

Trade union membership, 1990–2007

Confederation/ centre

1990

1993

1994

1998

2000

2003

2005

2007

Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB)

2,681,000

1,663,821

1,172,242

607,883

391,636

393,191

317,317

328,232

Confederation of Labour ‘Podkrepa’ (CL Podkrepa)  

500,000

 

154,894

 

106,309

 

91,738

Other, including:  

314,000

 

14,499

 

n.a.

 

n.a.

- ‘Promyana’ Trade Union  

-

 

7,802

 

58,613

 

n.a.

- National Trade Union (NPS)  

30,000

 

118

       
- Association of Democratic Trade Unions (ADS)  

30,000

 

2,098

       
- Popular Union Edinstvo  

184,000

 

113

       
- Community of Free Trade Union Organisations in Bulgaria (CFTUOB)  

70,000

 

4,011

       
- General Centre of Branch Trade Unions in Bulgaria (GCTUB)  

-

 

357

       
Total  

2,477,821

 

777,276

 

558,765

 

419,970

Membership density rate %      

37.3

 

26.9

 

17.9

Notes: For 1990, there are data only for CITUB, as reported at its Constituent congress in February 1990. For 1994, 2000, 2005, the only data are from CITUB’s internal organisational register. Figures for 1993 are according to information self-reported by trade unions (‘The Bulgarian challenge’, 1994, pp. 96–101). Data for 1998, 2003 and 2007 are according to official censuses of trade union members.

Due to a constantly decreasing membership, trade union density also shows a clearly downward trend. From 99.6% in 1989 and more than 80% in 1990, it had fallen sharply to 37.3% by 1998. This downward tendency has continued, albeit at a slower rate, since 2000. The trade union density of the representative trade unions in 2003 was 26.9%, declining to 17.9% in 2007. However, due to the lack of reliable official information for the smaller trade union organisations and some autonomous trade unions not affiliated to the existing umbrella organisations, trade union density is underestimated in Bulgaria.

1.2 Please indicate the presence and content of recent studies (since 2000) on trade union membership of particular groups of workers, such as women, young people, migrants, white-collar workers, service workers, workers with ‘atypical’ contractual arrangements, and/or other groups of workers which are relatively less represented in trade union membership in your country.

Research on trade union membership is limited. For the most part, studies in this field have focused on the development of legislation, social partnership and collective bargaining as new features of the economic transition period.

The Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (Институтът за синдикални и социални изследвания, ISTUR) has conducted some surveys related to the issues of trade union membership. A survey in 1999 paid special attention to the motivation for membership and the perceived added value of trade union organisations (Gradev et al, 2000). It studied the dynamics of trade union membership, motivating and demotivating factors, and confidence in trade union bodies. The findings were discussed at the National Conference of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (Конфедерация на независимите синдикати в България, CITUB) – the governing body of CITUB between congresses – entitled ‘Looking at ourselves and the future’.

In 2003, ISTUR carried out interviews with all presidents of sector or branch trade unions affiliated to CITUB in the framework of a project aiming to study sectoral economic and employment development, the challenges which trade unions faced, the dynamics of trade union membership and organising strategies at branch level. The analytical report of the interviews was a basis for identifying target branches (wholesale and retail trade, services and tourism, transport, textiles and clothing, agriculture, private security and construction) and target regions (seven regions with the lowest membership rates and six regions with an ethnically mixed population) for recruitment. A draft of an Organising strategy of CITUB for 2003–2004 and an action plan were proposed, which were discussed and adopted at the 2003 National Conference of CITUB (Daskalova and Mihaylova, 2003).

In 2000, ISTUR participated in a study carried out by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). It focused on women’s trade union membership and showed that, while the proportion of women in trade unions in Bulgaria is proportional to their share in the working population (varying between 48% and 51%), there is a persistent underrepresentation of women in trade union decision-making bodies at all levels (Petrovic, 2002).

More information on trade union membership trends is to be presented under the 2008 ETUI-REHS project ‘Development of trade unions in the NMS and candidate countries’, referring to the new Member States (NMS) that joined the European Union in 2004 and 2007, as well as the candidate countries planning to join the EU.

2. Trade union membership: national debates

2.1 Please indicate whether in your country there are ongoing national debates on trade union representation and membership and their recent developments. In particular, you should indicate whether existing discussions address the following topics and illustrate the main actors and positions in such debates, reserving special attention for the views of the trade unions which have engaged in specific organising efforts.

In Bulgaria, there is no active public debate on trade union representation and membership and their recent developments. The issue has usually gained momentum in periods when the official censuses of trade union members, national negotiations or industrial action and strikes are conducted. In these cases, usually the media and the public have been divided on the advantages and disadvantages of individual trade unions and their representativeness. Increasingly, voices of liberal research argue that trade unions are an anachronism of the industrial era which is not adequate to meet the new realities and values.

Ongoing debates on representation and membership are characteristic for the trade union organisations, especially for CITUB and the Confederation of Labour ‘Podkrepa’ (Страница на КТ Подкрепа, CL Podkrepa). At most of their forums and organisational events, they discuss these issues.

The trade union debates and activities mostly focus on declining membership and the reasons for this situation. They underline the need for further organisational development and restructuring to face the challenges of dynamic development and reforming the economy and labour market, as well as changing employees’ attitudes to trade unions and solidarity. CITUB and CL Podkrepa emphasise the need to reform their organisations from top to bottom in order to overcome the membership decline and to expand trade union activities to sectors and specific groups with a low union presence, such as small enterprises, companies in the private sector, the information and communication technologies (ICT) industry, minority workers, young workers and ‘atypical’ workers.

In fact, trade union representation in private companies – especially newly established enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – is considered the weakest link, requiring special organisational measures. Particular attention is also devoted to the recruitment of young people in trade unions and their training and capacity building, as well as the need for generational change and the promotion of young people into leadership positions.

Following the discussions in the organisations, both trade union confederations include organising measures in their programmes and resolutions (CITUB Programme 2007–2011, CL Podkrepa Strategy and Programme 2007–2011 (in Bulgarian)) and other policy documents.

CITUB considers the enlargement of its social base and organising as a main priority. Along with the more general discussion on declining membership and action needed at all forums, CITUB has devoted two of its national conferences to the issues of membership and organising. At its fourth conference ‘Motivation for membership and organising: New reality – new responses’, CITUB emphasised the need to overcome the mismatch between the structure of the organisation and the new structure of employment. The main points of debate are: the questionable effectiveness of some of the actions undertaken; the inadequacy of the structures and mechanism of organisations; the internal and external challenges requiring changing policy; the need to establish the right balance between organisational trade unionism and trade unionism based on services; and how to make best use of scarce financial and human resources at all levels of the system.

3. Trade union initiatives to recruit new groups of workers

3.1 Please provide information on any major organising actions and campaigns (at least three) started by trade unions in your countries, since 2000, either aimed at the general workforce or at specific groups of workers (please include at least two examples of this latter type), such as: women; young workers; migrants; workers in particular sectors; workers in specific professional groups; workers with certain contractual arrangements, such as part-time workers, temporary agency workers, self-employed people or freelancers.

The examples of trade union activity presented below have been chosen because they show the main directions in which the representative trade unions reshape their strategies to face the challenges of declining membership, and their efforts to attract some important groups and professions. The examples also show the activity at different levels of the trade union system in the country.

Organising strategy of CITUB

a) the trade union organisations involved

Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB).

b) the reasons which have led to these actions and campaigns

At the Fourth National Conference ‘Motivation for membership and organising: New reality – new responses’ held in 2003, delegates of organisations affiliated to CITUB continued the debate initiated at previous conferences. The reasons for paying special attention to the development of the common Organising strategy of CITUB are the:

  • changing external and internal environment, challenging the existing structures and the mechanisms of trade unions;
  • continuing decline in membership and the lack of effectiveness of the measures already undertaken.

c) the target groups (all employees, only certain groups, such as those just mentioned above or others to be specified)

The strategy targeted all employees in the defined target branches and regions. They are defined on the basis of the problems and trade union density identified in the ISTUR survey.

Target sectors or branches: wholesale and retail trade, services and tourism – including multinational corporations (MNCs) or large retail chains, catering, open markets, retail and repair, and housing services; textiles and clothing; agriculture; the food industry; motor transport; construction; media; and private security activities.

Target regions: eight large cities where employment is concentrated and six regions with an ethnically mixed population.

d) the strategies used (for instance, direct campaigns and contacts with workers at workplaces, widespread public communication and information campaigns, and web campaigns)

The strategy includes:

  • direct campaigns in the target branches in the target regions and direct contact with workers. Six organisers have been appointed for this purpose;
  • providing a range of new services, information and training, social and trade union rights, legal services and representation;
  • improving internal organisational mechanisms and tools of CITUB;
  • developing sector or branch organising strategies in accordance with the decision taken by the fourth conference;
  • continuing the Campaign for defence of fundamental labour rights at the workplace initiated in 1998;
  • improving the CITUB communication strategy;
  • building networks with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as associations of self-employed persons, farmers, cooperatives and micro-enterprises.

The adopted National action plan for organising includes a further specification of the mechanisms and strategies to be used in organising workers in the target branches and regions.

e) the focus of such strategies (basically either collective bargaining and interest representation or service provision)

The strategy focuses mainly on strengthening social dialogue and collective bargaining at all levels for better interest representation, and also envisages the provision of new services.

f) the level at which they take place (national, local, company)

Regional, branch and company.

g) the evaluations of the relevant trade unions on: i) the effectiveness of the specific strategies used; and ii) the outcomes in terms of increased membership, cooperation between trade unions, relations across trade unions, and relations with employers, both in the short and in the long term

At its last congress held in 2007, CITUB assessed the implementation of the organising strategy. The following results were achieved.

  • It established 236 new organisations with 5,390 members.
  • It established new trade unions: the Union of the National Health Insurance Fund, the National Media Union, the National Union of the Private Security Business and the National Trade Union of Private Auditors.
  • CITUB further developed its role in civil society, with new associated members (in Bulgarian) joining the confederation – namely, the Union of Artists and the Union of Apiarists.
  • Training for trade union organisers was provided by the CITUB Workers’ Education and Training College (Колеж за Работническо Обучение, WETCO).

h) the presence and outcomes of official/independent assessments, if present

There are no official or independent assessments apart from the above indicators.

Trade union activities aimed at young people

Both CITUB and CL Podkrepa have their own youth organisations and a special youth policy. They direct their activity towards the promotion of rights and interests of young members in local organisations through collective bargaining, and towards the establishment of youth organisations at national and regional level which unite trade union and non-trade union members.

Youth Forum 21 century of CITUB

a) the trade union organisations involved

CITUB.

b) the reasons which have led to these actions and campaigns

CITUB is concerned about the ageing trade union membership and low youth membership. The organising measures are also in line with its concerns about the need for changing generations in the trade union, especially in leadership positions.

c) the target groups (all employees, only certain groups, such as those just mentioned above or others to be specified)

Young employees and young trade union leaders and activists.

d) the strategies used (for instance, direct campaigns and contacts with workers at workplaces, widespread public communication and information campaigns, and web campaigns)

CITUB has conducted a steady policy (in Bulgarian) to recruit more young employees. In 1999, it established the Youth Forum 21 Century (YF21) registered as an NGO, which aims to develop the capacity of young people and recruit them in trade unions. Over the years, YF21 has developed regional structures and organised different events, including workshops, surveys and debates on: the situation of young people in the labour market; labour, social and trade union rights; and trade unions taking an active position in civil society. Supported by CITUB, YF21 also provides training, labour market information and other services to its members.

In 2002, YF21 further expanded its links to the youth community and – with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation – developed a project ‘Expert club Generation 21’, which united youth experts from the state administration, political parties and NGOs. The aim is to increase young people’s participation in civil society. Each meeting of the Generation 21 is devoted to developing an independent opinion on an important topic or law, which is sent to the corresponding institutions and media.

In 2007, YF21 and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation started a new initiative – the Young Trade Unionist Club (in Bulgarian) – aiming to establish a youth trade union network in industry and public services including trade union members throughout the country. The network considers as its main tasks the capacity building of young trade unionists, the provision of information and support in resolving practical problems in companies.

Sharing experience and best practices among young trade unionists is another goal of the network. Thus, CITUB hopes to prepare a new generation of trade union members able to act proactively and to motivate young people to join trade unions.

e) the focus of such strategies (basically either collective bargaining and interest representation or service provision)

The youth organising measures have focused on better interest representation at national and company levels, attracting more young people into trade unions, capacity building and creating a human resource base for the future of CITUB.

f) the level at which they take place (national, local, company)

The activity of the organisation is developed at national level, but is then decentralised to regions and economic sectors.

g) the evaluations of the relevant trade unions on: i) the effectiveness of the specific strategies used; and ii) the outcomes in terms of increased membership, cooperation between trade unions, relations across trade unions, and relations with employers, both in the short and in the long term

CITUB has registered younger trade union members and an increasing number of trade union leaders of local organisations. However, no official statistics are available. Another outcome of this initiative is the development of the confederation’s contacts and communications with young people and a better image in youth communities. The young trade unionists consider the establishment of the network as very useful.

h) the presence and outcomes of official/independent assessments, if present

The CITUB youth organisation has gained more respect and is invited by the public authorities at different levels to participate in developing youth policy.

Trade union organising activities at branch level

Establishment of the Independent Branch Trade Union of Higher Education and Science – CITUB

a) the trade union organisations involved

CITUB.

b) the reasons which have led to these actions and campaigns

The trade union membership of the academic community was very fragmented. A few organisations are affiliated to different, mostly not representative national unions, while some of the organisations of the Institutes of the Bulgarian Academy of Science (BAS) were affiliated to the CL Podkrepa Federation of Technical Industry, Science and Informatics (Национална Федерация Техническа Индустрия, Наука, Информатика). The Federation of Education and Science affiliated to CITUB dissolved in 1996.

The Independent Branch Trade Union of Higher Education and Science – CITUB (IBTU-HES) aimed to unite the representatives of the academic community and to voice and represent their interests. The leadership and the members consider that fruitful social dialogue is possible only if resources, capacities and structures are consolidated.

c) the target groups (all employees, only certain groups, such as those just mentioned above or others to be specified)

The target group includes all persons employed in universities, colleges and research institutes of BAS.

d) the strategies used (for instance, direct campaigns and contacts with workers at workplaces, widespread public communication and information campaigns, and web campaigns)

IBTU-HES was established in November 2001 by the decision of 100 members working in different universities and in the institutes of BAS. It was supported by the CITUB experts. In recent years, local IBTU-HES organisations have been formed in almost all universities and colleges throughout the country. The strategy used includes contacts with representatives of the academic community, an information campaign, high personal involvement and engagement on the part of the leadership.

e) the focus of such strategies (basically either collective bargaining and interest representation or service provision)

The focus of the organising strategy of IBTU-HES is collective bargaining and the representation of interests of the academic community before the institutions dealing with higher education and science. The trade union also organised training for the leaders of local organisations on collective bargaining, gender issues, proposals on legislation in the field, as well as discussions and protest actions (in Bulgarian) aiming to defend Bulgarian education and science and those employed in that area of economic activity.

f) the level at which they take place (national, local, company)

IBTU-HES is established at branch level.

g) the evaluations of the relevant trade unions on: i) the effectiveness of the specific strategies used; and ii) the outcomes in terms of increased membership, cooperation between trade unions, relations across trade unions, and relations with employers, both in the short and in the long term

The strategy and actions undertaken proved to be very effective. The membership increased from 100 members in 2001 to reach 3,500 in 2007, with a trade union density of 20%.

Due to the active position of the trade union (in Bulgarian, 137Kb PDF), the financial resources for education and science were increased. The last collective agreement provides for a pay rise from 8% to 20%. The wages of assistants were increased by 28.8%.

h) the presence and outcomes of official/independent assessments, if present

There are no official or independent assessments.

Regional trade union CL Podkrepa Varna

a) the trade union organisations involved

Confederation of Labour ‘Podkrepa’ (CL Podkrepa).

b) the reasons which have led to these actions and campaigns

Regional trade unions play an important role in the organisational structure of CL Podkrepa as they are closer to the local organisations. The regional trade union CL Podkrepa Varna (КТ ‘Подкрепа’ Варна) is very active. Affiliated to this regional union are trade union organisations (sections) and the municipal trade unions in the northeastern territory of Varna region. According to the union, higher trade union membership is needed to improve the working conditions and living standards of the workers. If the trade union is to attract more members, it must be more flexible and must expand the services provided to trade union members, reflecting their changing needs.

c) the target groups (all employees, only certain groups, such as those just mentioned above or others to be specified)

All trade union members in the territory of the Varna region.

d) the strategies used (for instance, direct campaigns and contacts with workers at workplaces, widespread public communication and information campaigns, and web campaigns)

The strategy is based on wide communication with the organisations and a well-developed website.

e) the focus of such strategies (basically either collective bargaining and interest representation or service provision)

The trade union strategy is based on the gradual expansion of the range of services provided (in Bulgarian). For example, it offers free consultation, trade union education, labour market information and mediation, computer and language training, commercial preferences, consultation and expert support in project design, online consultations and recreation activities.

f) the level at which they take place (national, local, company)

The strategy is realised at regional level.

g) the evaluations of the relevant trade unions on: i) the effectiveness of the specific strategies used; and ii) the outcomes in terms of increased membership, cooperation between trade unions, relations across trade unions, and relations with employers, both in the short and in the long term

New trade union organisations in some schools and healthcare establishments were established. However, there is no proven direct correlation between the establishment of the new organisations and the services provided.

h) the presence and outcomes of official/independent assessments, if present

There are no official or independent assessments.

3.2 Please indicate whether organising initiatives in general (i.e. beyond the specific instances illustrated above) are ‘concentrated’ or ‘diffused’, in terms of trade unions involved (only certain trade union organisations are active or there are no significant variations) and of target groups (they focus only on certain groups of workers or they are part of more general approaches to organising).

Organising initiatives might be defined as diffused – in other words, each confederation has its own strategies and action plans for organising its members. However, following these strategies, the trade unions and local organisations affiliated to different confederations are not equally active and engaged, and significant variations translate into decreasing or increasing membership. For example, the Independent Trade Union Federation of Energy Workers in Bulgaria affiliated to CITUB managed – despite the large-scale privatisation of the energy sector (BG0405202F) and significant dismissals as a result – to increase its membership from 1,500 members in 1990 to 5,035 members in 2003 and 6,569 members in 2007. The leadership considers that the reasons for this success are: the collective agreement negotiated; the protection of workers’ rights provided by the trade union; and particularly its commitment to meet personally with organisations and workers and motivate them towards membership. However, the trade union has not yet managed to merge with the larger Union of Energy Workers, also affiliated to CITUB and with more than 10,000 members. The existence of two parallel organisations in the same sector dilutes the potential for better organising and protection of energy workers.

The well-organised protection of the labour rights of workers and everyday organising commitment is also a reason for the increasing membership of the National Branch Water-Supply Trade Union at CITUB, which grew from 1,500 members in 1992 to 11,674 members in 2007.

3.3 Please indicate the role of ‘new trade unions’ and of ‘grassroots movements’ in organising initiatives in general (i.e. beyond the specific instances illustrated above) compared with the role played by long-established trade unions and, if relevant, whether cooperation or competition emerged between these types of actors.

In Bulgaria, the existing trade unions may be considered new unions as they started to develop their genuine and authentic role since the beginning of the economic transition. CITUB is the successor of the old trade unions but it underwent significant organisational and functional restructuring in 1990. CL Podkrepa was founded in 1989.

4. Commentary

4.1 Please provide your own comments on the present state and recent trends in trade union representation and membership, as well as on the ongoing debates in your country and on future prospects.

There are two nationally representative confederations. The larger CITUB emerged from the reformed official communist trade union, while CL Podkrepa came out of the opposition movement. There are also a few smaller trade unions which split from the main confederations, but they are not very active (BG0307204F, BG0412102F). All of the national trade unions are experiencing a significant decline in membership. The reasons for this situation include a sharp reduction in the size of the manufacturing and public sectors, where trade unions have traditionally been strong, and a growth in smaller businesses – which employ about half of the labour force – where trade unions find it much harder to organise. The challenges that the trade unions face are also associated with the individualisation of interests and the undermining of solidarity, as well as the wider range of employer resistance strategies.

In response to the membership decline, a wide range of reforms have been implemented, although, as yet, they have failed to reverse the downward trend. In particular, this is associated with financial and human resources shortages, as well as a lack of capacity, which limit the opportunities to implement reforms to meet the challenges of the changing world of work.

The new realities in the labour market require more flexible responses, including: better targeted membership recruitment campaigns, the consolidation of sector or branch structures through mergers, a more flexible regime of membership through establishing territorial organisations, greater engagement of the federations affiliated to confederations, the development of networks and alliances with NGOs and better implementation of the trade union communication strategy. Shifts in the composition of membership require reforms in trade union governance to ensure the representation, participation and involvement of members from underrepresented groups.

References

Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB), Programme ‘For decent work and life in united Europe’ 2007–2011. Resolutions, Sofia, CITUB, 2007.

CITUB, Documents of the National Conference ‘Looking at ourselves and the future’, Sofia, CITUB, 1999.

CITUB, Documents of the Fourth National Conference ‘Motivation for membership and organising: New realities – new responses’, Sofia, CITUB, 2003.

CITUB, Organising strategy of CITUB, Sofia, CITUB, 2003.

CITUB, Action plan for organising, Sofia, CITUB, 2003.

Confederation of Labour ‘Podkrepa’ (CL Podkrepa), Strategy and Programme 2007–2011. Resolutions, Sofia, CL Podkrepa, 2007.

Daskalova, N. and Mihaylova, T., The restructuring of the economy – Economic, social and trade union consequences, Sofia, ISTUR, 2003.

Gradev, G., Daskalova, N. and Mihaylova, T., Enterprise trade union organisation – its state and trends, Sofia, ISTUR, 2000.

International Labour Organization Subregional Office for Central and Eastern Europe (ILO-CEET), The Bulgarian challenge: Reforming labour market and social policy, Budapest, 1994.

Petrovic, J.A., The male face of trade unions in central and eastern Europe, Zagreb/Brussels, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Women’s Network, 2002.

Nadezhda Daskalova, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)

Page last updated: 14 May, 2010
About this document
  • ID: BG0901029Q
  • Author: Nadezhda Daskalova
  • Institution: Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)
  • Country: Bulgaria
  • Language: EN
  • Publication date: 14-05-2010
  • EIRO Keywords: Trade unions