Telework in Bulgaria
The Bulgarian government and social partners do not consider telework as a priority issue. In 2003, teleworkers represented 5.5% of the total workforce, compared with a 13% average in the EU15. Indeed, internet connectivity at the workplace is still relatively low in Bulgaria. This article looks at the extent of telework in this country and explores the progress in implementing the EU framework agreement on telework, concluded by the European social partners in 2002.
Article 2 of the 2002 European framework agreement on telework (107Kb PDF) has defined telework as follows:
Telework is a form of organising and/or performing work, using information technology, in the context of an employment contract/ relationship, where work, which could also be performed at the employers premises, is carried out away from those premises on a regular basis.
However, Bulgaria has not signed this telework agreement between the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), BusinessEurope (then known as UNICE), the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Union Européenne de l’artisanat et des petites et moyennes enterprises, UEAPME), the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (Centre européen des entreprises à participation publique et des entreprises d’intérêt économique general, CEEP), the Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff (Eurocadres) and the European Confederation of Executives and Managerial Staff (Confédération européenne des cadres, CEC). No officially adopted definition of telework exists in Bulgaria, but in practice the same requirement is used as outlined in the agreement definition. Informal discussions are currently taking place among the government and social partners concerning the adoption of a telework agreement.
Prevalence of telework
No official statistics are available concerning the number of employees engaged in telework in Bulgaria. However, the Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR) has made a calculation in this regard, based on the Labour market – annual review 2006 (pp. 13 and 21) from the National Employment Agency (Агенция по заетостта). Another resource, prepared by the German-based research and consulting company Empirica, is the Statistical indicators benchmarking the information society (SIBIS) pocketbook 2002–2003 (p. 72, Table 34), which measures the information society in the EU, including the then EU accession countries, as well as Switzerland and the US. Overall, from these sources, it appears that the number of persons employed in telework in Bulgaria in 2003 is 204,000.
In 2003, teleworkers therefore represented 5.5% of the total workforce in Bulgaria. In the same year, the proportion of such workers amounted to an average of 13% in the 15 EU Member States before enlargement of the European Union in May 2004, while in the new Member States that joined the EU in 2004, the average share of teleworkers stood at 5.4%.
To gain a more recent indication of the number of teleworkers, it may be helpful to outline data on workers’ use of computers with access to the internet at their workplace and as part of their work. In 2004, the proportion of employed persons using computers with access to the internet at work was 8% of all those employed, according to the 2005 report е-Bulgaria (p. 48) from the Applied Research and Communications Fund (ARC Fund). The following table summarises the share of employed persons using the internet at the workplace in 2006, according to the duration of use.
|Use of the internet at work||% of workers|
|- up to 8 hours a week||11|
|- from 8 to 21 hours a week||5|
|- from 21 to 40 hours a week||2|
|- more than 40 hours a week||2|
|- No answer||1|
Source: ARC Fund, ‘e-Bulgaria’, Sofia, 2005, p. 45
Occupations typically using telework
The following list outlines the occupations most likely to engage in telework:
- professionals and management specialists: architects, accountants, managers, marketing and public relations professionals, human resource and finance professionals, financial analysts and brokers;
- information technology specialists: systems analysts, software programmers and engineers;
- field workers: company representatives, surveyors, inspectors, property agents, auditors, journalists and insurance brokers;
- professional support workers: book-keepers, translators, proofreaders, indexers and researchers;
- clerical support workers: data entry staff, word processor operators, directory enquiry staff and telesales staff.
People employed in these occupations may work at the following locations:
- at home;
- in the employer’s telecentre or public telecentre;
- on the road, using modern technology and having access to data;
- from a client’s or partner’s premises;
- at a number of different sites such as the above combining the facilities which they have in agreement with their employer.
The main sectors where telework is used include:
- financial intermediation;
- real estate and business activities;
- state management and compulsory public insurance;
- health and social work.
No official data or data from incidental research exist on the number or proportion of teleworkers in these sectors.
Development of telework at national level
No data are available since 2003 concerning the number of teleworkers according to the definition stipulated in the EU framework agreement. As noted above, a rudimentary indication of trends in relation to this kind of employment may be drawn from statistics regarding workers who use a computer with access to the internet at work (www.innovation.bg, ARC Fund, 2006). The latter share has increased by 6% a year over the period 2000–2005, but the growth is unevenly distributed and the total remains at a low level, below 30%.
The development of internet connectivity in 2007 will extend to about 90% of companies and 90% of computers, according to forecasts by the ARC Fund. At the beginning of 2006, between 70% and 82% of companies had access to the internet, as did 78% of computers, and about 21% to 30% of employed persons could use the internet at work.
Significant differences arise with regard to frequency of internet use and the reasons for using the internet at work. Only 2% of internet users are online all the time (see table above). The biggest proportion of internet users (11%) use it on a more casual basis (less than eight hours a week).
Nevertheless, the comparatively low levels of working away from the company premises mean that there is a steady tendency for the share of this kind of work to increase. For example, employees at the National Statistical Institute (Национален Статистически Институт, NSI) have worked remotely for a long time because of reconstruction of the building where they work.
No specific legislation exists concerning telework according to the definition set out in the EU framework agreement. Teleworkers are protected by the Labour Code, the Health and Safety Act, and all other acts and regulations protecting other forms of employment.
Experience to date suggests that there is no need for specific legislation in relation to telework. At this stage, it would be sufficient to update the existing legislation and to implement some of the existing requirements related to telework. In this sense, the social partners have not undertaken any initiatives, but this does not exclude the possibility that they may do so if it becomes necessary.
Employment and working conditions
Telework is voluntary and teleworkers are protected against discrimination, as is the case for other forms of employment. Regulations are in place with regard to data protection and the right of privacy of teleworkers; such legislation is common and protects all forms of employment. Furthermore, teleworkers have the same access to training as workers at the employer’s premises, and enjoy the same collective rights as other employees.
Teleworkers are also protected in the same way as other workers in relation to health and safety. Regulation No. 7 of 15 August 2005 of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Министерство на труда и социалната политика, MLSP) and the Ministry of Health (Министерство на Здравеопазването) defines specific minimum health and safety requirements for work with video display units (VDUs). This follows the transposition of Council Directive 90/270/EEC on this subject.
Views of social partners and government
Up to now, the social partners have adopted no decisions in relation to telework, although discussions at expert level have been initiated.
Bozhidar Arsov, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research