Social partners agree regulation of home-based work

Social partners involved in the working group on home-based employment in Bulgaria agreed the draft of a bill at their latest meeting on 16 June 2010. It proposes a new section in the Labour Code and amendments to the Social Security Code and to the Law on Safety and Health at Work. The working group was set up by the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation in February 2010. There are different views about this sector’s regulation among trade unions, non-governmental organisations and employers.

The number of self-employed workers, mostly female outworkers with no contract, is growing in Bulgaria. The latest study by the Society for Development and Homebased Production and the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB) surveyed 500 homeworkers in 10 cities. Of these workers, 82.3% were women. Only 2.8% of those surveyed had a labour contract, 51.2% were aged 50–65 years, and 97.1% had worked for more than 15 years exclusively at home.

It is difficult to categorise home-based employment generally, and outworkers in particular, but it was felt necessary because there are too many classifications. For instance, the international organisation HomeNet, which supports homeworkers, divides its workers into two main groups – home workers who do piecework and workers who are self-employed. Home-based work almost always takes place outside the formal systems of labour and social regulation. There is rarely a regular supply of work, and home-based workers do not usually have any rights to a minimum wage, social security or to a pension. These workers are rarely counted in official statistics or recognised by trade unions.

Background

On 27 May 1998, the European Commission approved recommendations for the ratification of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 177 on home work by all EU countries. The ratification of Convention 177 in Bulgaria was the first step towards the government setting up a working group with the participation of social partners. The purpose of this group was to decide on rules for home-based work in Bulgaria and to propose legislation.

Agreement among social partners

The social partners represented on the working group agreed that the regulation of home-based work should be done through amending the Labour Code, the Social Security Code and the Law on Health and Safety at Work. These would in turn define home-based work, the registration of workers as well as the regulation of contracts, equipment, working time, time off, wages and control measures.

On 16 June 2010, the employer organisations and both representative trade union organisations – CITUB and the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (CL Podkrepa) – signed an agreement to regulate home-based work. Nevertheless, the debates continue, mainly on the legal framework for the work of self-employed outworkers.

Main issues under discussion

The main issues of discussion among the social partners include:

  • the definition of home-based work;
  • forms of contracts;
  • the workplace and equipment and maintenance;
  • working time and ways of recording working time;
  • labour discipline;
  • working conditions and workplace safety and health;
  • control of the General Labour Inspectorate Executive Agency (GLI-EA).

Trade union proposals

CITUB representatives showed participants in the working group examples of laws from other European countries such as Austria, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. As a first step to addressing this issue, CITUB argues that it is first necessary to regulate the work of self-employed homeworkers. CITUB and CL Podkrepa proposed improving the working environment of out-workers by adopting new, or amending existing, legislation on social security and tax relief, and on preferential loans to fund small business training and qualifications.

Employers reactions

On the employer side, the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria (KRIB), the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA), the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA) actively participated in the debate. However, employer organisations representing small and medium businesses did not show any interest in the problem. Representatives of the employer organisations were concerned only with the regulation of home-based work.

Commentary

The group finished its work on 17 July 2010 with the proposal for a draft law signed by the parties and submitted to the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation (NCTC) and to leaders of the trade unions and employer organisations represented on the group. Social Affairs Minister Totio Mladenov said the regulation on home-based work and telework are priorities in his department. He added that the proposed rules would give more effective control over the working conditions and pay of homeworkers, and also over the companies that employ them.

Violeta Zlateva, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)

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