Precarious work under the spotlight

A joint study from the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria and the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa looks at the issue of precarious work. Employer, union and government representatives discussed the results of the study, highlighting the role of international labour standards in overcoming precarious work and the implications of rising inequality and differences in Europe. There is clearly a need for rational decision-making to tackle this issue.

Precarious work in Bulgaria

Ten forms of precarious work in Bulgaria and the extent of their regulation by national labour legislation have been analysed in a joint study by experts from the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (CL Podkrepa).

While part-time and fixed-term contracts have existed for a relatively long time and are well regulated, other forms of work, such as home-based work, telework and work provided through temporary employment agencies have only recently been incorporated into labour legislation and regulations for these kinds of work are incomplete. Some forms of precarious employment, such as domestic and on-call work, are also unregulated and it is difficult to establish their socioeconomic impact.

A particularly dangerous form of precarious employment is illegal employment. It has two main dimensions: as work that is undertaken without an employment contract and as employment regulated by a contract containing ‘hidden’ clauses (for example, envelope wages). There has been a stable downward trend in the level of work without a contract, but contracts with hidden clauses have increased. In 2011–2012, 10% of those employed reported that they received higher wages than stated in the contract with their main employer. This level is the same as it was in 2003.

Effects of illegal employment

Some positive changes have been made since 2003. Registration of individual employment contracts was made compulsory and minimum insurance thresholds were set for specific economic activities and professional and job categories.

However, illegal and undeclared employment is still widespread. Most illegal and undeclared income is earned through employees’ second jobs. This not only distorts the figures in the labour market but also creates huge fiscal problems, depriving the national budget and security funds of huge sums of money each year. It also leads to growing mistrust in social security systems.

Under these circumstances, a unified approach is difficult to achieve. Social security systems should be reviewed and upgraded, and legal regulation of all new forms of employment should be considered. Any changes should preserve flexibility in the labour market, but also offer workers greater protection. A new definition of the role of trade unions in protecting workers’ rights is also needed.

International specialists’ opinions

Luc Demaret, Senior Specialist in Workers’ Activities at the International Labour Organization (ILO), has suggested that ILO standards could help reduce precarious work. He believes precarious forms of employment could be reduced by:

  • setting clear conditions that limit and restrict precarious forms of employment and reduce the need for them;
  • setting an upper limit for the proportion of workers who can be employed on precarious contracts;
  • limiting the amount of time a worker can be employed on a temporary contract;
  • preventing the abusive use of precarious contracts;
  • establishing effective remedies for workers who are victims of abuse.

Strengthened protection for workers in precarious forms of employment is also needed, says Luc Demaret, and can be achieved by giving them effective access to trade unions and collective bargaining, and by guaranteeing them the same social security and occupational safety and health conditions as workers on permanent contracts.

Finally, he says the hiring of workers on the basis of precarious work could be made more expensive, and so less attractive to employers, by establishing compulsory salary bonuses, higher taxes or reduced subventions and additional employers’ social security fund contributions.

Romuald Jagodzinski, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), has said that the economic crisis has led to a growing divergence between EU countries, both in economic and social indicators and the expansion of various forms of precarious work. However, with a few exceptions, changes have been made across the EU to working time legislation, rules for atypical contracts and the creation of new types of contracts, in particular for young workers. The highest European-level policy intervention procedures for collective bargaining and wage-setting mechanisms have also been set up.

Commentary

Bulgaria’s trade unions are in a very delicate situation because they are not in a position to introduce effective policies and instruments to combat the country’s considerable volume of precarious employment. At the same time, precarious forms of employment are increasingly being seen in the form of the ‘dependent’ self-employed who only have one employer, or the ‘quasi-self-employed’ who have to work day by day for the same employer with no guarantee of future employment.

Lyuben Tomev, ISTUR

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