Bulgaria: Latest working life developments Q4 2018
Cooperation between light industry trade unions and employer organisations over workplace health and safety, new collective agreements in the health and construction sectors, and protests by miners and power engineers are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Bulgaria in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Social partners unite to promote health and safety in the light industry sector
Cooperation between trade unions and employer organisations was officially announced on 7 November 2018 during a forum organised by the Federation of Independent Light Industry Trade Unions (FITULI).
Tsvetelina Milchalieva, FITULI President, stated that there is good practice amongst employers in the light industry sector and that current goals within the sector include the development of a new approach to the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases, and the reduction of work-related illness that result in absenteeism. There are also specific measures in place to tackle undeclared work, which is considered part of the grey economy and contributes to social dumping. These measures include strengthening the inspection activities of the General Labour Inspectorate and the launch of the Bulgarian fashion’s ‘Bringing into the light: Competitiveness vs shadow economy’ campaign organised by FITULI and the Bulgarian Association of Apparel and Textile Producers and Exporters (BAATPE).
During the forum, trade unions and employer organisations agreed that success requires adherence to the legislation and industry health and safety regulations, together with implementation of the collective agreements. The discussion also focused on the main working environment risk factors within the sector. These risks include exposure to:
- noise, dust, vibrations and chemical agents
- physically demanding situations and tasks
- poor illumination
- very high or very low temperatures
The forum concluded with the adoption of an official document that presented the ‘Bringing into the light’ campaign and included a commitment to restoring a working conditions council for the light industry sector.
New collective agreements in construction and health
The minimum wage for a qualified construction worker is set at BGN 1,114 (€570 as at 15 February 2018) in the branch-level collective agreement for the construction sector. Signed on 6 November, the agreement applies to businesses engaged in construction, construction industry activities, public works, design and investment and is valid for a two-year period. Tsvetelina Ivanova, President of the Federation of Independent Construction Trade Unions (FICTU), stated that the collective agreement can be considered as a step towards combating the grey economy and protecting the interests of well-managed construction companies.
According to Ms Ivanova, large construction companies in Bulgaria have to comply strictly with the agreement’s terms, which include:
- increasing paid annual leave to at least 23 working days
- raising the employer contribution to meal vouchers and energy drinks
- adding a 1% seniority pay bonus to the basic wage
- increasing the hourly remuneration rate for night work
- guaranteeing a minimum monthly wage that is higher than the statutory national minimum wage
A branch-level collective agreement for the health sector was signed on 8 November by trade unions, employer organisations and the Minister of Health,  and is due to enter into force in January 2019. The agreement sets the minimum wage level for nurses at BGN 900 (€460) and for doctors at BGN 1,200 (€613). The minimum wage rate for heads of wards is set at BGN 1,300 (€665), while heads of clinics are entitled to at least BGN 1,500 (€767). Wages are even higher in university multiprofile and specialised hospitals for active treatment, as well as in hospitals that receive more than 51% of their funding from the government: the lowest wage rates for doctors range from BGN 950 (€486) to BGN 1,700 (€869). This represents an increase of between 27% and 48% compared to 2016.
Miners and power engineers protest to protect their workplaces
On 28 November, 2,000 miners and power engineers from Maritsa Iztok EAD Mines held a rally in Radnevo. The protesters insisted that the government should develop and propose a long-term work programme for the company by the end of February 2019 (applicable over a 20-year period), as well as a new 2030–2050 energy strategy. They also requested that a clear national stance on the sudden rise in carbon pricing should be presented to the European Commission.
A declaration by the trade union organisations from Maritsa Iztok EAD Mines and the Maritsa Iztok coal-fired power plants was sent to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Energy, the management of Maritsa Iztok and the mayors in the region.  The miners said that urgent measures should be taken to guarantee the financial standing of the mines and power plants, as the four power plants will close if the three mines stop working. As a result, 13,000 people would likely lose their jobs, while a further 100,000 people in roles related to production activities would also be at risk of unemployment.
In light of this, the two national representative trade union organisations – the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Confederation of Labour (CL Podkrepa) – said that the government and the President should issue a statement to protect the future of the Bulgarian economy. They also asked for the introduction of innovative technologies within the fossil fuel energy production sector to be considered.
In December 2018, President Rumen Radev presented a consolidated position on the Paris Agreement (drafted by the government and approved by the trade unions) during the Climate Change Conference in Katowize, Poland. However, meeting the conditions of the agreement is likely to be a challenge for Bulgaria, particularly in terms of creating decent working conditions and ensuring high-quality workplaces.
The developments in the construction and health sectors are occurring at a time when the national labour market is characterised by manpower shortages and a worsening demographic situation. One way to address these issues may be to encourage the active, constructive and sustainable participation of employers, workers and their respective organisations in social dialogue.