EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Quality in work and employment — Bulgaria

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  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 28 June 2007

Snezhanka Dimitrova

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

Quality of work and employment is back at the top of the European employment and social policy agenda. At the first Informal meeting of Ministers for Employment and Social Affairs held under the German Presidency on 18/20 January 2007 in Berlin, agreement was reached on a set of policy principles covering what the Presidency termed ‘good work’ – a new EU terminology following on from the ILO use of ‘decent work, and the more established EU mantra of ‘more and better jobs’.This is the contribution of Bulgaria.

1. The importance of quality in work and employment

The concept of quality in work and employment till now has not been on the policy agenda. Nevertheless there are (see below) some policies and strategies concerning its indicators established by the European Commission. Foundation. Despite that there is not coherent policy and integrated approach on quality of work and employment. To be properly understood this position must be examined in the context of reforms in the country and its consequences for the employment and living standards of the population. Low participation and employment rates, relatively high unemployment, especially female and youth, long term unemployment, impoverishment, working poor representing about 7% of the employed and 6% of the self-employed, featured the situation in which the quality of work and employment are not at the first place to be considered.

The transposition of the EU directives as well the commitment of the country to the Lisbon Strategy as well as approaching membership have supported a change in the prevailing attitudes of government and social partners and will increase the importance of this issue.

  • Is there concern about a possible conflict between job creation and the pursuit of quality in work, or are the two aspects seen to be complementary?

In the country there is a real conflict between job creation and quality of work. Due to the high levels of unemployment and low employment rates the main initiatives are directed at creation of employment at all price. Less attention was paid to the quality of work and employment. The most of the jobs offered by the labour offices were and still are low paid and for low qualified workers, e.g., in December 2006 only 13% the jobs offered by the employment offices are for high qualified workers. The people are ready to work in the informal economy even without labour contract and social security contributions, under poor working conditions, and low pay. The active measures on the labour market are basically short-term. There are not clear national/regional/branch priorities: where to provide alternative employment, what is the future of the Bulgarian economy, including in the context of EU accession. Job creation on the primary market is not sufficient. The improvement of the labour market indicators is basically due to the introduction of a mandatory registration of the employment contracts, which had an impact on employment in the grey economy, and the introduction of two programs for temporary employment - “From social welfare to employment” and “Assistance upon retirement”. Working with no contract whatsoever has become a widespread phenomenon on the Bulgarian labour market. The workers concerned are paid cash, with no social security contributions, and are deprived of practically all their employment and insurance rights. Amendments made to the Labour Code at the end of 2002 have obliged employers to register with the National Social Security Institute all employment contracts concluded. As a result of the introduced mandatory registration of employment contracts in 2003 24 000 employers and 150 000 workers surfaced from the grey economy. Since 2001 both the beneficiaries of and expenditure on active labour market policies have dramatically increased. The share of total expenditures on unemployment rose from 23.8% to 69.7% in 2005. At the same time, less than 34% of the expenditures on active labour market measures were devoted to subsidies for employers providing sustainable employment and for training. The remaining two-thirds were spent on public work programmes. From Social Assistance to Employment is the broadest programme with more than 92,000 participants in 2005, mostly encompassing long-term unemployed persons and ethnic minority groups. Assessment of the active programmes shows that a selective approach towards disadvantaged groups has been mainly implemented through temporary employment in low-qualified and low-paid jobs. As a result, a cycle of labour-market reintegration and exit persists for disadvantage groups, in spite of the goals of labour market policies.

There is no will to negotiate proactive measures with clear focus, involving life long learning and the acquiring of skills, which meet the demands of the labour market both on national, and enterprise level. This only widens the gap between the economic needs (also in the context of EU accession), and the quality of workforce in terms of its employability and competitiveness.

  • Is the national debate being influenced by policy discussions and developments at EU level?

The national debate and policy development are closely related to the ongoing debates and developments with an accent on the reformed Lisbon Strategy, Employment guidelines, European Social Model and all important policies influencing the accession to EU.

  • Have any major initiatives been taken by any of the interested parties, either separately or together, with respect to quality in work and employment?

The initiatives are still only at the level of the policy elaboration and priorities setting. In spite of the efforts however, work done so far represents the easier part of the road to achieving the EU policy goals. Implementation of the policy is the actual activity yet to be carried out in Bulgaria.

2. Career and employment security

In the last few years the concept of “flexecurity” has entered in the debate and research in the framework of the flexibilsation of labour market and the overall liberalisation of the labour legislation. A number of surveys, ILO surveys included, testify to the fact that the Bulgarian labour market is defined by sufficiently high labour law flexibility and highly limited employment security. The limited security is associated with worker incomes, delayed payment or unpaid wages for months and years, low social benefits. The insecurity is also connected with the fact that neither the public nor the private sector guarantee sufficient number of good quality working places. There is not also effective labour market policies easing the transition from employment to temporary unemployment, education and life long learning, retirement, self-employment, home work and family commitments.

Any further liberalisation of the legislation as the employers are insisting on the absence of adequate social protection would be unacceptable. Moreover, the limited social security is an impediment to higher flexibility of the working time, part-time or temporary employment. As a rule these forms of employment are not attractive (part-time employment represents about 3% in 2006) in the context of Bulgarian realities because of the low level of pay.

  • In your national context, is it likely to be helpful in promoting a new consensus regarding positive labour market and social policy reforms, or is there a risk of it becoming more of a verbal compromise between different interests?

There is very difficult in the country to reach a consensus about the adequate level of flexibility and security leading to positive labour market and social policy reforms due to the continuing efforts of the employers for further liberalisation of the labour and social legislation, mainly concerning the overtime and freedom for conclusion of fixed-term employment contracts. Optimism in this direction is based on the implementation of the signed in September 2006 Pact on the economic and social development till 2010.

  • In such discussions, is the nature of the employment contract - notably between permanent full-time job contracts, and those that are not – a central issue?

The issues of the type of the labour contracts were in centre of the social partners debate on flexibilisation of the labour market. The Labour Code amendments outline different possibilities for conclusion of both permanent and fixed term contracts under specific conditions. The provisions aimed to enshrine the principle of non-discrimination between open-ended and fixed-term contract workers and to establish a framework to prevent abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term contracts

What employers do not like is the fact that fixed-term contracts for jobs that are not seasonal, temporary or short-lived can be concluded only by way of exception, thus ending the practice till 2001 of a continuous chain of fixed-term contracts.

  • Are there other concerns in such debates – such as appropriate levels of unemployment compensation, or the need to link flexibility and security with increased investment in human resources in order to cope with structural change?

While expressing their firm support for the need of introducing flexible employment, including flexible working time, the trade unions are insisting on negotiated flexibility that will make it possible to protect both the business interest in flexibility and competitiveness and the worker interest in security and to overcome to some degree the differentiation in the terms of employment, the loss of social security and social fragmentation.

Recent policy documents adopted by the government and consulted with the social partners aimed at fuller consideration of the Lisbon Strategy and the European Employment Strategy, and for:

  • creation of conditions for the opening of good quality jobs through modernisation of the work organisation and other instruments ensuring labour flexibility combined with improvement of the social security and the tax systems.

  • more active use of the collective bargaining on different levels as an instrument of the employment policy aimed at professional career, vocational training and reorganisation of the working time.

  • vocational education and training of the workforce and development of the life-long learning system at all levels matching with the needs of the economy.

3. Health and well being

The changing sectoral structure of employment with prevailing of employment in services leading to new kinds of health concerns is not on the policy agenda. There is a lack of public awareness of the rising issues concerning stress and violence at the workplace. Both policy makers and employers do not pay the due attention to the new health risks. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) carried out few surveys on stress and violence in the public services – education, health care and local and central government. Surveys on stress are also carried out in mining and railways. The findings show high levels of work related stress in these sectors.

Nevertheless the newly registered cases of occupational diseases proved that manual work and the poor physical factors of the work environment continue to be the main source of health problems.

  • How far is the health of older workers seen to be an issue in relation to the debate about increasing the effective retirement age?

One of the social security reform issues was the gradual increase of retirement age – from 55 for women and 60 – for men to 60 for women and 63 – for men in 2009. The political decision was adopted with out serious public debate. Further increase of the retirement age to 65 both for men and women will be not well grounded taking into consideration the deteriorated health of the population, the life expectancy and the death rates. So far this is not issue of the debate.

  • How important are workplace relations for well-being? Is the main focus on violence, harassment or abuse, or are there other, more general, concerns?

Despite common view that the workplace relations are very important for the well being of the workers the management of the most of the enterprises are not concerns about this issue. Some exceptions are the large multi national companies that view workplace relations as part of their human resource development policy. There is not public and employers awareness of the existence and the real scope of violence at the work place and the risks associated with it. They are not on the focus of the employers as well. The findings of the survey of the Institute for Social and Trade union Research Violence at the workplace in the health care show that psychological violence is more prevalent than physical one, and it is attributed to the relationships with colleagues and bosses.

  • To what extent is there recognition that men and women may often suffer from somewhat different work-related health problems?

The health statistics show different work related health problems for men and women. With the rising general morbidity rate the relative share of men with occupational diseases is higher that that of women - 60,84% of the total. (2003). While prevailing health problems among female employees are musculoskeletal disorders and psychological disorders - stress, depression and anxiety problems, the men claim higher overall fatigue and pulmonary and cardiovascular disorders.

4. Skills development

The negotiations for the accession of the country to the EU defined the government’s policy agenda. Competitiveness and the flexibility of the labour market, the safety of workplaces and the quality of the labour force will be key factors for the country’s participation in the European single market. In this respect the need for life-long learning and investments in human resources are accepted by government and social partners and the public at large as a tool for realisation of the long term policy goals. Bulgaria fully supports the Lisbon strategy and measures on lifelong learning included in the EU Memorandum of life-long learning and in 'Copenhagen declaration'. Figures in this respect differ significantly with those in the EU –member states: The Continuing vocational training survey CVTS2 of EUROSTAT shows that in Bulgaria only 1% of the employees are included in CVT at the workplace, only each 10th of the unemployed is included in vocational education, the system of LLL is not well developed.

The processes have accelerated in the last few years. Policies, priorities and measures for reforming the education and training system are developed in such policy instruments as: National strategy for life-long learning, Human resource development program. Employment strategy, Joint memorandum on social inclusion, Joint assessment of employment priorities, Strategy for adult education, National strategy on continuous vocational education, National action plan on employment 2006 etc. In the Economic and Social Pact the employers committed themselves to include in training no less than 8% of employees.

  • Has the fact that demand for manual skills is falling, and demand for non-manual skills rising, been reflected in the type of support provided by the educational and training systems in your country?

Bulgarian educational and training systems are under reforms in view to reflect the changes in labour market demands. Special attention is paid on the reforming of the system of vocational education. Education and training curricula are developing in the context of information and communication technologies and new service oriented economy.

  • To what extent have specific actions been developed to help those most at risk of being left behind – notably workers in areas dominated by traditional industries and agriculture?

For the workers in some sectors and large enterprises special programmes for alternative employment are developed including vocational training, e.g. Program for employment in regions with mining and steel industry. Long-term unemployed and ethnical minorities’ representatives are also included in special programs.

  • To what extent are employers, trade unions and government working together – at policy or company level - to address these or related concerns, such as the better integration of young workers, or the retention of older workers?

Social partners actively participate in the development and implementation of employment promotion policy and life-long learning. A number of relevant tripartite bodies operate at national, regional and sectoral level. Trade unions and employer’s association have also their own education and training systems. At company level there is a trend, mainly in the large and multinational companies to include provisions on LLL in the collective agreements. Special attention in the discussions, policy and programmes of these bodies is put on the labour market integration of young workers and retention of older worker trough investments in training.

5. Work life balance

Work-life balance has not been a major political issue in Bulgaria thus far. Nevertheless, some legislative changes and strategy documents contain some measures or might have an impact on the reconciliation of work and family life. They are influenced by the transposition of EU directives on working time, part time, parental leave, teleworking, and equal treatment and by the commitment to the European employment strategy objectives and social inclusion policy. The new forms of work organisation are, however, introduced with the aim of achieving greater labour market flexibility rather than in a context of the national debate on reconciling work and family life. There is a lack of coherent family friendly policies. The context for the various amendments is rather an attempt to address the country’s falling birth rate and deteriorated age structure than a way to enhance work–life balance. The surveys both of the NSI and the European Foundation reveal that Bulgaria is one of the countries with the highest rate of working people who have difficulties in reconciling work and family life and also with the persistent gender inequality in work and family life.

  • In so far as new working time arrangements are being developed, are the initiatives coming from employers, or from joint initiatives with their employees and/or trade unions?

The flexible working time schemes and part time are not yet popular in the country and this does not allow a better reconciliation of work and family. As the findings of the National Statistical Institute (NSI) survey reveal, only one in four persons may influence possible changes in the beginning and the ending of the working hours or to use a day off for family reasons. There are not also such flexible working time schemes, including annualised working time, providing for education, occupational training, recreation and entertainment etc.

An analysis of sector and branch agreements signed in the last years reveals that there is a trend towards including provisions for work and family life balance, e.g. longer paid annual leave for childcare, a shorter working day or week and part-time work for pregnant women and mothers with children below 10 years of age or with a disabled child.

  • To what extent is public policy playing a role? What sorts of actions or initiatives have there been? Do gender or parenting policies play a particular part? Do these include childcare arrangements?

There is no integrated approach in relation to reconciliation of work and family life in Bulgaria. The family policies that should empower parents remain fragmented and oriented mainly to direct transfers to families by social security and social assistance schemes. Paid maternity leave is 2 years and is transferable to family members. Tax relief for children was introduced in 2006 and leads to a reduced taxable income for one of the parents depending on the number of children. However there are no developed training services for re-integration of beneficiaries after the leave, family counselling and support services. There is a clear downward tendency with regard to childcare facilities. Number of crèches and kindergartens and number of children in them declined by 28 and 33% respectively and the fees are high.

  • Long, or ‘unsocial’ working hours can be a particular cause for concern, whatever the intrinsic quality of the job or the pay being received. Likewise, reasonable proximity to one’s place of work will limit the amount of time lost in travel. How do these issues rank as concerns with the public and workforce?

The cited above survey of NSI reveals long working time, which is nearly 8 hours per day as compared to about 7 hours back in 1988. Men work 40 minutes longer than women; the time allocated for a side job is 5 hours per day for women as compared to 4 hours and 22 minutes – for men; the time spent in travel to and from work is 59 minutes; the women daily spend on domestic work nearly 4 hours and a half, while the men spend 2 hours and 29 minutes daily.

Source: NSI, Labour Force survey, Module "Work organisation and working time"2004

The relatively high rate of employment of the Bulgarians with “unsocial working hours” (health care, retail trade, small family businesses, services) is a considerable obstacle for finding an acceptable work-life balance. As the LFS, 2004 shows 36.2 of the surveyed work in the evenings, 10.7% in the night, 46.7% on Saturday and 24.7% on Sunday.

These issues are not of particular concern both with the public and workers. The possibility to have a choice in achieving the optimum balance between work-life, the social contacts and the leisure time comes as a result of the financial security and living standards, and they are very low yet.

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