Bulgaria: Project reports on tools and legislative changes to aid settlement of labour disputes

​​The National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration plays a key role in settling industrial conflicts, but its work is hampered by lack of accurate and detailed information on collective labour disputes. It launched the Dispute Settlement project to examine best practices for recording disputes, to develop tools for monitoring disputes and to propose changes to the law on mediation and arbitration procedures.

A project to develop new tools for tracking nationally representative and comparable information on collective labour agreements and collective labour disputes was set up by the National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration (NICA) in 2013. The Dispute Settlement project (in Bulgarian), which was supported by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (MLSP), reported on its work in 2015. The project conducted in-depth analyses of collective labour dispute practices in Bulgaria and suggests new tools for tracking such disputes, as well as proposing legislative changes on mediation and arbitration to be used in settling them.

Background

NICA was founded in 2001, in an amendment to the Collective Labour Disputes Settlement Act, as a legal entity under the supervision of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy. With the rank of an executive agency, NICA is organised on tripartite lines. Its Supervisory Board has two members from representative workers’ organisations, two from representative employer organisations, and two from the government.

The main aims of NICA are:

  • to contribute to a mutually beneficial and timely settlement of industrial conflicts;
  • to support the improvement of social dialogue;
  • to support the implementation of the European social model for solving industrial relations conflicts. 

NICA updates information about sectoral/branch and municipal collective labour agreements on its website and publishes annually an analysis of collective agreements (in Bulgarian). This analysis is based on a collective labour agreement (CLA) database, which is not yet fully functional.

NICA receives copies of collective agreements registered by the General Labour Inspectorate Executive Agency (GLI EA). However, it is hampered by the lack of regulations on the provision of data, which means it cannot analyse agreements by the standard classification codes for industry (NACE) or occupation (ISCO), the membership of employers and employees’ sectoral/branch organisations, or the number of employees covered by each agreement. Nevertheless, NICA tries to collect such information and to include it in the CLA database.

NICA and GLI EA have developed an online form for registering collective labour agreements to ensure timely and reliable information, but certain laws need to be amended before the form can be used.

NICA also maintains a national electronic database (the CLD database) to collect information about collective labour disputes from social partners and the media, and to collate reports of mediation and arbitration procedures. It contains data on the causes of the disputes, demands made, and the assistance sought from social partners and NICA. However, there are still limitations as NICA is not able to measure the scale of any disputes or to provide internationally comparable data. These shortcomings led to NICA's launch of the Dispute Settlement project.

Dispute Settlement project

The Dispute Settlement project was set up in June 2013 as part of a larger project by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy entitled Promotion of Social Dialogue and Better Working Conditions for Employees. The three-year project (2013–2016) was financed by the Bulgarian–Swiss Cooperation Programme, which aims to reduce disparities within the enlarged European Union. NICA was the lead partner; the other participants were the nationally representative trade unions and employer organisations. The Minister of Labour and Social Policy set up the project's management team.

The project's tasks included:

  1. analysis of current practices for registering ongoing collective labour disputes and proposals for tools to track and monitor these disputes;
  2. identification of good practice and preparation of recommendations for improvements to legislation on mediation/conciliation and arbitration procedures.

Project results and suggestions

CLD tracking tool

NICA's efforts to collect comparative and valid information about collective labour disputes are hampered by gaps in the law and inaccuracies in the data it receives. The CLD database provides information on the number, causes and nature of disputes, and on the effectiveness of the system for resolving disputes in general, but the information is still incomplete and not nationally representative. Currently, no accurate data are available about:

  • the number of collective disputes;
  • announced and conducted strikes;
  • protests occurring in conjunction with collective disputes;
  • the enterprises affected;
  • the workers involved;
  • total working days lost in which economic sectors. 

Since 2006, NICA has gathered information on collective disputes published in the media or based on data from regional or municipal councils for tripartite cooperation. However, information from the media does not contain measurable and accurate data on the duration of disputes, causes and how they have been settled. Neither do the regional, municipal and sectoral/branch tripartite councils collect data on disputes at company level. Moreover, the CLD database does not reflect disputes in small enterprises; it focuses on large companies or sectoral protests.

NICA stated that having accurate information and statistics about disputes is important for their settlement. The state authorities that are responsible for guaranteeing freedom of association, the right to strike and collective bargaining should enable the collection and processing of data on collective disputes and strikes. NICA’s data collection should be at least comparable to the technical standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Within the project, NICA developed two online tools to help collect more detailed information about actual collective labour disputes. One is an early warning form for collective labour disputes (in Bulgarian), which records information on collective labour disputes at enterprise level about the cause of the dispute, the parties involved, the location, the main demands and declared supportive actions, and relevant documents. The other is an online questionnaire (in Bulgarian) that collects information from the parties involved in a collective labour dispute, such as information about the employer, the number of employees, the agreement in force, and contacts with the employer and employee representatives.

Legislative improvements

The main conclusion of the project is that current data collection methods are inadequate partly because there is a lack of effective legislative definition of concepts such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration. The project working group suggests several changes to legal terminology that will clarify and facilitate dispute resolution: for example, clearly defining the moment a dispute occurred and its cause; differentiating between mediation and conciliation procedures; and making it possible to record whether arbitration procedures are voluntary or compulsory as well as the circumstances for their application.

Commentary

The social partners’ experts identified the gaps in collective labour dispute legislation and suggested further improvements for data collection and analysis. The proposed legislative changes aim for effective and efficient social dialogue, with clear procedures of arbitration and mediation.

The two online tools developed by the project embody good practice. These operational tools are the first step toward building a CLD comparative database that complies with the technical ILO standards. To make this possible, however, there is still the need to make changes to the law.

 

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