Employment conditions of homeworkers

A survey conducted in 2010 for the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria examined the homeworking sector which employs more than 500,000 people. Face-to-face interviews with 500 homeworkers confirmed the findings of previous surveys and revealed low pay (mainly at piece rate), long hours and poor working conditions. About 80% of the respondents were women and more than half were aged 50–65; 55% were self-employed and the rest worked under contract.

A survey carried out in Bulgaria between 1 January and 30 April 2010 aimed to map the employment conditions of homeworkers and to present a more complete and comprehensive view of the homeworking sector, which includes more than 500,000 people.

The survey was undertaken by the Association of Home-based Workers for the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) as part of a project called ‘Security through the law and flexibility through collective bargaining’ funded by the European Social Fund in Bulgaria (ESF) under its Human Resources Development Operational Programme 2007–2013.

Homeworkers in Bulgaria are entirely in the informal economy; their work is invisible and is not monitored. The process of surveying homeworkers is further aggravated by the difficulties in locating these workers and by their fear of the tax authorities. The interviewers were specifically trained to deal with this problem and the survey used specially developed tools to map the homeworkers. There were also problems associated with the tendency for survey participants to be embarrassed and unwilling to talk about their problems, relationships, ties, etc.

About the survey

The survey consisted of face-to face interviews with 500 homeworkers from 10 regions and from the capital, Sofia. Towns and municipalities of different sizes were selected by the interviewers. The interviewers had more than eight years of experience of working with the Association of Home-based Workers, as 90% of them were themselves homeworkers. They acted through the established network of homeworkers, and through them also made contact with new homeworkers.

The criteria for the analysis of data collected by the survey are:

  • gender and age;
  • type of homeworking;
  • method of working;
  • working conditions;
  • working hours;
  • type of income (whether only from homeworking or from a combination of regular employment and homeworking).

Main findings

The conclusions from analysis of the findings of the 2010 survey are very similar to those from previous surveys conducted by the Association of Home-based Workers in 2002–2003 and 2006–2007. The 2002–2003 survey was funded by HomeNet (an international organisation for homeworking) and the 2006–2007 survey was paid for from the association’s own funds.

All three studies used similar methods and the interviews were conducted at the home/workplace of the participating homeworker.

Sociodemographic characteristics of homeworkers

Over half of interviewed homeworkers (51.2%) were aged 50–65 years mostly living in small towns. Some (15.8%) were pensioners and most (82.3%) were women (see table). Where unemployment is high and income is low, home employment is a chance to supplement the household income and improve its economic situation.

Over half (55%) of the respondents were self-employed people who produced and sold items themselves (‘own account’); they have buy the raw materials, provide the machinery, design the product and sell it. ‘Piece-work’ workers (45% of respondents) work under a permanent contractor from companies that supply them with the raw materials and sometimes also provide equipment and purchase the finished goods.

Characteristics of homeworkers in Bulgaria*
Characteristic Information from CITUB survey**
Male 17.7%
Female 82.3%
20–30 7.4%
30–50 41.3%
50–65 51.2%
Craft/service performed at home: Tailoring, carpentry and wood carving, souvenirs, design, embroidery, knitting by hand and machine, auto services, agriculture, private tuition, cosmetics, hairdressing, manicure and pedicure, jewellery, pottery, iconography, macramé, translation, IT services, martenitsi***
Type of work:  
Own account 55%
Piece work 45%
Place of work: Home and in the vicinity
Working conditions: Use of hazardous substances such as paints, chemicals, adhesives, fertilisers and dust (68.9%) Inadequate lighting
Working time (average per month): 160 hours
Pay (cash without contract): 97.14%
Employment contract as homeworker: 2.8%
Other forms of employment:  
Civil contract 0.6%
Contract 26.9%
Pension 15.8%
Trade union 6.3%
Other 4.2%

Notes: * Total from 10 cities;

** Percentage of respondents;

*** Traditional red and white Bulgarian adornment worn from 1 March until around the end of March to welcome the spring.

Previous surveys conducted by the Association of Home-based Workers also found that, both in times of economic development and of crisis, the highest share of homeworkers are older people aged over 50 years (see figure). This group are usually unemployed and considered too old to be employable. In Bulgaria, employers prefer to hire workers aged 30 and under because younger people are willing to work without contract and receive wages in cash.

Distribution of homeworkers by gender and age

Figure 1: Distribution of homeworkers by gender and age

Sources: 2002–2003 data, HomeNet; 2006–2007 data, Association of Home-based Workers; 2010 data, CITUB

Working conditions

The workplaces of homeworkers do not necessarily comply with the requirements for safe and healthy working conditions. The production process is not controlled, and its effectiveness and safety depends entirely on the ability of the homeworker.

Most of those surveyed (87.5%) worked in a space in their home that is also used by other household members. Only 12.5% of homeworkers had a specially adapted workplace at their disposal.

Homeworkers frequently work under poor conditions, without any organisation of production and labour in low productivity. When working at home, 69.8% of the respondents used hazardous materials (paint, chemicals, adhesive, dust and fertilisers). In many cases, members of their household are also in contact with these materials.

Working time can be from 09.00 to midnight without interruption. The average working time of 160 hours per month (Table 1) relates to those doing extra work at home (for example teachers and accountants) and those who are only employed part time due to the economic crisis. The monthly working time of self-employed homeworkers can average 200–240 hours overall.

The pay for a homeworker is calculated by what is being produced per hour (piece rate basis). Just over half of these workers (51.2%) not only produce the product, but also sell it themselves.


Home-based employment in Bulgaria is not regulated by law.

Bulgaria ratified Convention 177 of the International labour Organization (ILO) on home work in 2009, but still has no legal provisions for its implementation. As a consequence, this economic activity is not reported in Bulgarian statistics and the exact number of homeworkers is not known.

Self-employed homeworkers tend not to comply with the legislation that requires them to register with ID and pay insurance and taxes; they work without benefits and without paying taxes.

Only 2.8% of respondents in the survey had a work contract.


The problems of homeworking in Bulgaria are largely known and identified. CITUB and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been fighting for more than four years for regulation of homeworking in the country. As a result of this fight, a national agreement was signed at the end of 2010 on the regulation of home-based work in accordance with ILO Convention 177. But the fight continues because this agreement will regulate only the labour of home-based workers and the problem of self-employed homeworkers remains.

Violeta Zlateva, ISTUR

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