Bulgaria: EWCO comparative analytical report on Information, consultation and participation of workers concerning health and safety

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 21 Ottobre 2010


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In the context of the socio-economic transformation, the development of the SME sector in Bulgaria is regarded as an important factor for economic growth and creation of employment. The SMEs share in the economy is 99,7% (over 88% are micro-firms) and they account for about 60% of the employment. The transformation processes were accompanied by the establishment of a new system of industrial relations, including participation, information and consultation on H&S through collective bargaining and H&S representative bodies. However the representation in SMEs, especially in micro and small enterprises is not well developed. In most of these enterprises there are no trade union organisations and committees/groups on working conditions are rarely established.

Background information

The general issue

According to several studies (Walters, 2002, HSE, 2005), Health and Safety management shows significant differences between large companies and SMEs. In these latter, especially among micro-enterprises (less than 10 employees) and small ones (10-49 employees), H&S regulation is a lot of times perceived more as a burden to comply rather than a competitive opportunity because of stronger pressure over costs, company struggle for survival, lack of both financial and human resources. Further, in micro and small firms employers do not always own adequate OSH managerial skills and knowledge and they often see with suspicious the support offered by public agencies.

The extent of workers’ involvement is ambiguous: on the one hand could be easier because of direct relationship with ownership, while lower skills and shorter average tenure and the lack of OSH workplace representatives, due to legal threshold and/or non-unionization, make workers less involved in taking care of H&S on the other.

Regulatory Framework

The Health and Safety at work Framework Council Directive 89/391 introduces general prevention principles applicable to all occupational risks, aimed to ensure a higher degree of protection of workers at work through the implementation of preventive measures to guard against accidents at work and occupational diseases. The directive establishes the obligation on employers to adequately inform (art. 10) and to consult his/her employees and their representatives (art.11) by allowing them “to take part in discussions on all questions relating to safety and health at work”, thus including their right to make proposals and to a balanced participation. Finally, the directive sets an obligation on the employer to adequately train at his expenses his/her employees (art. 12) and their representatives, with regular repeals in order to take into account of technological and organizational changes and to the insurgence or changes of new risks.

The H&S at work strategy 2007-2013 stresses the importance of SMEs, high-risk sectors and subcontracting in achieving the target of a 25% cut of work accidents within 2013: in particular, SMEs are seen as more vulnerable since they have “fewer resources to put complex systems of protection in place, while some of them tend to be more affected by the negative impact of health and safety problems”.

The strategy envisages a simplification and adaptation of the existing legislation to SMEs and various forms of support in its implementation, such as dissemination of good practices, training of employees, development of simple risk assessment tools and guidelines, access to affordable and good quality prevention services, and economic incentives. Labour inspectors should play a twofold role both “as intermediaries to promote better compliance with the legislation in SMEs, primarily through education, persuasion and encouragement” and “when necessary, through coercive means”,

Member States are invited to “take steps to facilitate access to good quality prevention services” particularly in favour of SMEs, to improve health surveillance of workers while avoiding inflating the formal requirements, to incorporate into their national strategies specific measures (financial assistance, training tailored to individual needs, etc.). Further, Member States and the social partners are encouraged to promote “the practical, rapid implementation of the results of basic research by making simple preventive instruments available to enterprises and in particular to SMEs”.

The second programme of Community action in the field of health (2008–2013) and the 2008 "European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being" , together with framework agreements on work-related stress (2004) and violence, bullying and harassment at workplace (2007) show both an important shift from the original notion of H&S, as stated by the 1989 directive, towards a more general “well-being” approach, and the prominent role played by social dialogue in its advance.

Figures and trends

Eurostat figures over work accidents (2002-2006) show the highest incidence rates in medium companies (50-249 employees), while micro-entreprises (1-9 employees) show the highest rates over fatal accidents. These trends seem to depend on the impact of manufacturing, construction and transports, while in the other services industries trends are not so clear-cut. However, Eurostat figures by industry and company size are not complete in order to provide an adequate assessment over time. Further, new risks emerge and work-related diseases (WRDs) evolve from the so-called “hygienic” risk factors towards “psychosocial” ones reflecting changes in working conditions.

Similarly Eurofound 4th EWCS does not show a clear-cut relationship between work accidents, risks for health and work-related diseases with company size. When asked “Do you think your health or safety is at risk because of your work?” (question 32) and “Does your work affect your health, or not?” (question 33), respondents working in small companies (10-49 employees) report the lowest scores. However, the share of respondents not well informed on H&S (question 12) declines from 15.3% in companies with 2 to 9 employees to 11.2% in companies over 250 employees: on average, such a share tend to increase since 1995 (see the full descriptive report). Similarly, both training and involvement over organizational issues are positively correlated with company size and could display indirectly a positive effect on H&S. Composition effects with respect to age (small companies show younger population), and industry (wider proportion of SMEs in services) should be taken into account.


1. National settings and regulatory framework

- How is the 1989 Framework directive on H / S and in particular information / consultation practically implemented in SMEs? Any data available? Do administrative reports exist in particular from the Labour Inspectorate?

The Health and Safety at Work Law (HSWL) was adopted in 1997, since then it has been subject to several amendments which sought to complete the transposition of the EU 'framework' health and safety Directive (89/391/EEC) and other H&S directives.

In 2008, the government undertook a series of legislative initiatives aiming to improve health and safety at work, including amendments to the Health and Safety at Work Law (in Bulgarian, 207Kb MS Word doc) and Labour Code (1.09Mb MS Word), a new Law for labour inspection, a National Strategy for Health and Safety at Work 2008–2013 (in Bulgarian, 2.3Mb MS Word doc) and a National Programme for Health and Safety for 2009 (in Bulgarian, 275Kb MS Word doc). (BG0809039I)

The HSWL applies to all enterprises. Information and consultation in all enterprises, including SMEs, are realised through Working Conditions Councils/Working Conditions Groups. Thus

the employer in SMEs is obliged as all employers:

  • to provide employees/their representatives all the necessary information concerning the H&S risks, protective and preventive measures undertaken;

  • to consult employees/their representatives and ensure their participation in discussion and approval of all H&S measures.

WCC/WCG as well as trade union representatives are entitled to take part in the investigation of work accidents and occupational diseases.

There is no reliable official statistics both on the total number of WCC/WCG and on WCC/WCG in SMEs. According to estimates of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) in over 90 % of the big and medium-sized companies WCC are established. CITUB estimates about 6,500 WCC and 10,200 WCG with over 48 000 workers’ representatives, 80% of whom are trade unionists (data for 2004).

In its regular annual reports on activities and national campaigns in different branches, the General Labour Inspectorate (GLI-EA) reported on the establishment of WCC/WCG in the enterprises inspected. For 2008, the GLI reported the establishment of WCC/WCG in 49% of the inspected enterprises (over 27 000, 84% of which were SMEs). The GLI stressed the slowing pace of setting up WCC/ WCG in retail trade, forestry, hotels and restaurants, real estate, renting activities and business services, where SMEs prevail. Not all WCC/WCG function well, and in many SMEs involvement of worker representatives is only “on paper”, a mere administrative formality.

- Does its implementation in micro and small companies follow similar patterns than in medium ones?

The implementation of the HSWL in SMEs significantly differs. According to the GLI inspections, in small companies the violations of the H&S requirements are frequent and the implementation of the OSH framework is delayed and not full. The reasons mentioned are: lack of financial resources, capacity and awareness on the existing legislation and regulations. The formal existence of WCC/WCG and the lack of interest in bilateral dialogue on working conditions in SMEs, which impacts the opportunities for employee consultation and involvement in the H&S management, are weaknesses mentioned in all GLI reports.

- Is H&S the current focus of legislation or did it evolve by incorporating “well-being at work” as the basic concept?

H&S continues to be the main focus of the legislation and practice. However following the EU common policy in the field, the concept of ‘wellbeing at work’ was introduced in the main policy documents: Guidelines of the Council of Ministers for the development of the activities on H&S 2002-2006 and in the National strategy for health and safety 2008-2013. The Strategy aims to outline the engagements and directs the efforts of the state bodies and social partners towards ensuring wellbeing at work and quality of life while considering the changes at the workplace and new professional risks.

However, it seems that there is a lack of awareness of the exact content of the concept and a lack of real measures and practical actions in this respect in companies.

- The Community strategy health and safety at work for 2007-2012 calls upon the member states to work out and implement strategies to reduce the number of industrial accidents and occupational diseases; are the SMEs specially singled out in the national strategies and cooperation between social partners underlined / foreseen / called for?

The National strategy on health and safety at work was adopted by the government after consultations with the social partners (BG0902019I). It aims to reduce accidents by 25% by 2013 while it is expected that the implementation of the Health and Safety Programme 2009 will lead to an8% decrease of workplace accidents.

The Strategy outlines as one of the challenges of the improvement of the O&H, the existence of significant number of SMEs, which lack knowledge about H&S. It aims at priority measures for implementation of legislation, with an accent on SMEs, including: dissemination of best practices; training of employees and managers; elaboration of easy to implement tools for risk assessment; comprehensive information and guidelines; mediation by labour inspectors aiming to encourage SMEs to better implement the H&S legislation; using the Community structural funds for SMEs; and training of young entrepreneurs on H&S management.

The Strategy outlines the need to further improve the social dialogue and to encourage the social partners to cooperate actively with the government in the elaboration of national H&S programmes, to implement sector/branch social dialogue initiatives, to ensure the employee participation in the new risk prevention; to render technical support and training to the branch and enterprise H&S representatives.

2. The micro-level settings: the role of H&S representatives

- From what level onwards / number of employees onwards, is it legally binding to establish an H&S Committee in the companies? What’s its role and function?

HSWL provides for the establishment of special bipartite bodies for information and consultation at enterprise level.

Working Conditions Committees (WCC) should be established in enterprises with 50 and more employees. Working Conditions Groups (WCG) should be established in any enterprise with between 5 to 50 employees.

WCC discusses on a quarterly basis the activity on H&S and proposes measures for improvement; participates in risk assessment; discusses the changes of work organisation, technology; makes inspections; participates in elaboration of programs for employees’ information and training. The employer informs the committee on the state of the accidents at work and occupational diseases.

Employees’ representatives at the WCC and WCG are entitled to:

  • have access to the existing H&S information, work accidents and occupational morbidity analyses, findings and the prescriptions of the control authorities;

  • require of the employer to undertake appropriate measures and submit proposals to him to mitigate hazards and remove sources of danger to H&S;

  • appeal to the control authorities if consider that the measures taken by employer are inadequate for ensuring H&S;

  • participate in the inspections of the control authorities.

- From what level onwards / number of employees onwards are risk prevention representatives elected? Are they distinct representatives from H&S Committee and work councils?

There are no risk prevention representatives in Bulgaria. The issues related to risk assessment and preventions are in the domain of the WCC/WCG.

- Does the H&S Committee deal with individual health related complaints? Does it have the right to initiate action?

There are no special provisions in this respect. The occupational medicine office has the main responsibility in this respect. However WCC/WCG can deal also with health related complaints if such arise as the WCC/WCG are entitled by the law both to require of the employer to undertake appropriate measures and to submit proposals to him to remove sources of danger to employees’ safety and health and to appeal to control authorities if they consider the measures undertaken by the employer in this respect are inappropriate.

- Do regional/territorial risk prevention representatives exist, covering several small SME’s?

There are no regional/territorial risk prevention representatives.

- Is there special H&S training foreseen for OSH representatives/committees? Is it adequate in order to cope with both emerging risks and legislative and technological changes in SMEs?

According to the HSWL, the representatives in the WCC/WCG receive initial and regular annual training according to curricula, procedure and conditions defined in the special Regulation No 4/1998 of the Labour Minister and the Minister of Health.

It provides for obligatory initial 30 hours training and annual 6 hours training during the working time and paid by the employer. Trade unions and employers’ associations also organise training for their representatives in WCC/WCG, including for SMEs.

However, the experts consider it is not adequate at the view of low capacity level of the SMEs representatives and the complexity of the national and community legislation, the emerging risks, and the rapid technological development. According to the GLI reports, many of small enterprises do not provide such training.

- In order to carry out prevention policies, does a right exist for the H&S Committee to carry out surveys, call in outside independent experts? Who finances the costs of the operations / expertise? Does this right exist also in SMEs?

There is not explicit right for WCC/WCG to carry out surveys and they actually carry out surveys rarely, especially for SMEs. Recently there has been the option to participate in tenders under the operational programmes funded by ESF or in projects funded by the National Working Conditions Fund. However the SMEs are not equally involved in such activities due to the lack of capacity for project elaboration and implementation and financial resources (co-payment).

- Does the H&S Committee have the right to consult the Labour Inspectorate?

The WCC/WCG have the right to appeal to the Labour Inspection if it considers that H&S measures undertaken by the employer are inadequate or in case of violations the H&S legislation. They are also entitled to participate in the GLI inspections.

- Does regular reporting, annual reports exist which describe enterprises occupational diseases, assess the occupational risks at the workplace and present prevention policies? Are they submitted to the H&S Committee for discussion before publication?

According to the law, WCC are entitled to be informed and discuss employers’ reports on activities on H&S, risk assessment and accidents and occupational diseases. However, regular reporting exists mainly for large enterprises and for enterprises participating in corporate social responsibility initiatives, e.g., Global Compact. It is a United Nation Organisation initiative which calls on companies to embrace ten universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour standards, environment and anti - corruption to be integrated into companies’ core business strategy and in every day business practices. The reports are published on the Global compact web-site.

- Is the H&S Committee, when providing a high standard of working conditions and of occupational health and safety seen as a positive competition factor? Can the image of the companies be regarded as important in the context for winning major contracts? Do companies refer to the activities of the H&S Committee in their Annual report of activities, to the existence of day-to-day bargaining and the management of working conditions by the H&S Committee? Do and how differ the approaches between micro/small, medium and large companies?

The high standards of health and safety are seen as a very important competitive factor. The non violation of the labour and H&S legislation is a requirement for applying for projects funded by ESF and is also considered in tendering for major projects. Annual reports of enterprises contain chapter on H&S, including the WCC activities. Micro and small enterprises rarely have such annual reports.

3. Social partners and the role of collective bargaining

Please summarize specific arrangements on H&S for SMEs and SME-dominated industries, and how territorial OSH representatives could intervene at workplace.

The review of the 34 sectoral/branch agreements in force in 2008-2009 shows that all have a special chapter on H&S. However most of them repeated the legislative provisions of the Labour code and HSWC law. Only few provide for longer paid leave and higher compensations for working in hazardous working conditions or additional social security contributions by the employer.

There is no information available for specific arrangements on H&S for SMEs or SMEs dominated industries. Many narrow branches of economic activities and enterprises do not have agreements due to the lack of trade unions and employers organisations or organisational capacity.

There are no territorial OSH representatives. According to the HSWL, at regional/municipal level tripartite Regional Working Conditions Councils (Регионални съвети по условия на труд, RWCC) should be established with main functions to:

  • approve regional programmes for investigation and preparation of projects for improving working conditions for funding by the Working Conditions Fund;

  • discuss the situation of the activities for providing healthy and safe working conditions in the region or in the enterprises;

  • render assistance to the employers in solving concrete H&S problems including initiatives for joint actions.

What is the role of Social partners in drawing guidelines and implementing H&S and work organization intervention aimed to prevent work accidents and WRDs? What is the role of labour inspectorates, social security institutions, OSH services and national agencies in promoting local-level experiences in SMEs? Please summarize, if there exist, the extent of the cooperation between these latter and social partners.

The national policy for ensuring healthy and safe working conditions is realised through tripartite social partnerships at national, sector/branch and regional level (BG0710019Q)

The National Working Conditions Council (Национален съвет по условия на труд, NWCC) was established in 1997 as a standing tripartite body entitled to coordinate, consult and integrate efforts of the state and social partners in the process of development and implementation of the policy for providing healthy and safe working conditions.

At branch level, are established Branch Working Conditions Working Councils (Браншови съвети по условия на труд, BWCC). The main functions of the BWCC are to: evaluate the status of implementation of measures aimed at ensuring healthy and safe working conditions; to elaborate/discuss drafts of rules and requirements aimed at ensuring H&S in the branch; to disseminate good practices aiming to improve branch H&S.

According to the Ministry of Labour there are 25 functioning BWCC and 37 Regional/Municipal Working Conditions Councils.

The Executive Agency General Labour Inspectorate (EA-GLI) and its 28 regional offices is a state bogy for overall monitoring over the observance of the labour and H&S legislation and working conditions. GLI also provides advice and consultations to employers and workers in SMEs, both during inspections and in the established permanent and provisional reception offices in the district centres. Regional divisions of GLI held meetings with regional trade union bodies to discuss the more pending issues in the enterprises and supported with information the RWCC and WCC/G in all enterprises, including SMEs.

The National Social Security Institute (Национален социално-осигурителен институт, NSSI), through its territorial branches, realises control related to the expertise of the working capacity, investigates the industrial accidents, and maintains the information system on accidents.

Representatives of these institutions cooperate with social partners on different H&S issues in the already mentioned national and branch bodies and in ad hoc working groups built on tripartite and bipartite principle, organise joint discussions and training.

4. Figures, quantitative and qualitative studies. (max 800 words)

Are there specific surveys which prove that standards of working conditions, health and safety within small enterprises as compared to larger ones are significant lagging behind?

There are no such specific surveys. Some information on the issue is provided in the GLI annual reports.

Do these surveys also investigate the impact of training, information and consultation over working conditions also in SMEs?

There are such surveys neither for large companies, nor in SMEs.

When surveys lack, are there qualitative studies investigating the impact of involvement and training on working conditions and health in SMEs?

The Project S.M.A.L.L. - Representation and Voice in Small and Medium Enterprises: Monitoring Actors, Labour Organisations and Legal Frameworks was carried out under the 5th framework programme in eight European countries.

The Final report of the this projet contains a chapter on Labour relations, collective bargaining and employee voice in SMEs in Central and Eastern Europe with analysis of 6 case studies of Bulgarian SMEs. As authors stressed ‘The case studies demonstrated that in SMEs the H&S observation is not rigorous and important differences between legislation and practice exist. In those firms it appeared that neither employers nor employees were interested in health and safety’. It suggests that the absence of formal channels of representation (trade union organisation and WCC/WCG) in SMEs hides the existence of a number of informal compromises between employers and employees over H&S matters.

There are also other studies which do not target explicitly the SMEs but shed light on the situation related to the social dialogue and involvement of employee’s representatives in H&S described in the Questionnaire for the EIRO/EWCO CAR on social dialogue and working conditions (BG0710019Q).

Develop on the findings / results. Please mention / enumerate / give links.

5. Good practices for SMEs: company/territorial level (max 200 words)

Are there well known examples for specific collective agreements in a given sector covering working conditions, H&S in particular in SME’s which go far beyond legislation? Are they exceptions or the rule? Please report at least one example at national level and at least two at territorial/company level.

There are no examples of collective agreements covering working conditions, especially in SMEs which go far beyond the legislation. The reasons include:

  • highly regulated H&S issues by the legislation, which did not provide room for negotiated provisions;

  • the implementation of the H&S legislation and EU requirements is very expensive for the companies, in particular for small ones and they lack financial resources for additional arrangements to be included in collective agreements;

  • declining overall trade union membership (about 20%). In small enterprises and in many medium-sized private companies the trade union presence is limited and there are often no collective agreements. (Only trade union organisations are entitled to conduct collective bargaining).

However there are some examples of good practice of social dialogue at branch and company level in the brewery industry, in which most of enterprises are middle-sized, e.g. the branch Charter on ethical standards and the Shumensko pivo company experience on negotiated measures aiming to improve health and safety.

Charter on ethical standards

In 2005, the social partners in the brewery industry signed a Charter on ethical standards of the social partners aiming at encouraging constructive social dialogue and jointly promoting the core ILO conventions, EU directives and national legislation on workers’ labour rights. The Charter is seen as an important step towards the introduction of corporate social responsibility in this sector. The parties agreed to pay special attention to the health and safety in the brewery companies striving to introduce stable measures, global standards and exchange of best practices in view of environment protection and assurance of good working conditions without any risk for the workers health. Preventive measures to health and safety at work were considered as a priority (BG0509201N).

Shumensko pivo

Shumensko pivo is the subsidiary of the Denmark-Norwegian Consortium Carlsberg employing 128 workers. The main factors behind the successful social dialogue and employee’s involvement in H&S issues are as follows:

  • High trade union membership (80%)

  • Establishment of and well functioning Social Partnership Commission (SPC)

  • Negotiated programme related to company investments in working conditions (EUR 25 million invested in modernisation and improvement of working conditions)

  • Social plan adopted by SPC providing for additional financing of annul paid leave, free meal and medical treatment in case of professional illness, vocational training

  • Programme on H&S adopted and its implementation is reported by the employer annually. The WCC meets periodically to discuss the state of H&S and the measures for preventing and decreasing the level of occupational illnesses.

  • The workers are motivated to participate actively in the developing of policy on working conditions improvement.


  • HSE (2005), Obstacles preventing worker involvement in health and safety. Research Report 296. http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr296.pdf

  • Walters D. (2002), Regulating health and safety in small enterprises. PIE, Peter Lang, Brussels

Nadezhda Daskalova, ISTUR

[1] Question 28a_1 “Have you undergone: Training paid for or provided by your employer, or by yourself if you are self-employed?”; Question 28a_2: “Training paid for or provided by your employer, or by yourself if you are self-employed - number of days”; question 28b_1. “Have you undergone: Training paid for by yourself?”; question 28b_2. “Training paid for by yourself - number of days”; question 28c: “Have you undergone: On-the-job training?”; question 28d. “Have you undergone: Other forms of on-site training and learning?”

[2] Question 30b: “Over the past 12 months have you been consulted about changes in the organisation of work and / or your working conditions?”; question 30d. “Over the past 12 months have you discussed work-related problems with your boss?”

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