Low degree of working time flexibility

The official labour market in Bulgaria remains relatively inflexible with regard to working time. Despite labour law amendments granting employers the freedom to reduce or increase working time and to offer part-time and flexible working arrangements, only about 2% of employees work part time and 3% work on temporary contracts. Other flexible arrangements in companies are rare.

Survey methodology

In June 2004, the National Statistical Institute (NSI) carried out an ad hoc labour market survey as part of the harmonised EU programme for business and consumer surveys. The survey was conducted in the industry, retail trade and services sectors. Employers in 3,131 enterprises were interviewed about the employment structure in their company, the present situation and attitudes towards increasing internal flexibility through changes in the company’s organisation of working time.

Main findings on working time flexibility

Permanent and full-time employment contracts prevalent

Despite the wider legislative opportunities for flexible working time – following labour law amendments in 1992, 2001 and 2004 – the labour market survey found that full-time work is still the standard option in industry, at 99.7% of all contracts, in retail trade (95.5%) and in services (96.8%). Permanent employment is also prevalent, accounting for 94.1% of employees in industry, 99.1% in retail trade and 93% in services (see Figure).

Main types of employment contract, by sector (%)

Main types of employment contract, by sector (%)

Source: Labour Market Survey, NSI, 2004

These findings from 2004 are confirmed by more recent data from the labour force survey, showing that employment in Bulgaria is still defined by permanent, full-time contracts. In 2005, some 93.6% of workers were employed on a permanent contract, while just 2.8% of employees held a temporary contract. The proportion of part-time employees was 1.5%.

Women, young people aged 15–24 years and people aged 46–55 years represent a significant proportion of part-time and temporary employment. For most of these workers, both part-time and temporary employment is a compulsory decision imposed by the lack of other options, rather than a free choice.

It should be noted that the role of collective bargaining in setting flexible working time schedules is relatively low; legislation plays a greater role in determining working time arrangements.

Length of working time

According to provisions of the Labour Code, the normal duration of the working week is 40 hours with possibilities for extending this to 48 hours. A detailed review of the 2004 survey data reveals that employees work up to 48 hours in most companies. The data also show that different working time regimes exist in industry, retail trade and services.

In industry, 22% of companies report a working week of less than 40 hours. This proportion increases to 65% of companies in industry who state that their working week ranges from 40 to 59 hours. In 13% of such enterprises, the length of the working week is 60 hours or longer.

Some 82% and 93% of companies in the retail trade and services sectors, respectively, report a working week of less than 46 hours. In 14% of enterprises in retail trade and 4% in services, the working week extends from 46 to 50 hours. Finally, in 4% of companies in the retail trade and 3% in services, the working week exceeds 50 hours.

Flexible working time schedules

Due to the low popularity of work with reduced and flexible working time arrangements, different flexible working time schedules are not yet widely used in Bulgarian enterprises. In the 2004 survey, employers stated that they used different ways to vary weekly working time during the year, depending on the company’s economic situation.

In 43% of enterprises in industry, 33% of those in retail trade and 56% of companies in services, employers opt for varying the working time schedule in order to adapt the working hours to the workload. Numerical flexibility in terms of personnel is an option for 15% of enterprises in industry, 20% in retail trade and 22% in services. Meanwhile, temporary closure is considered by 2% of enterprises in industry, 3% in retail trade and 5% in services.


Bulgaria significantly lags behind in relation to European practices on flexible working time. In recent years, working time has remained at the centre of debate between employers and trade unions. During the discussions pertaining to the Labour Code amendments, the trade unions accepted the employer organisations’ demand for more flexibility regarding working time.

Nevertheless, employers continue to call for greater flexibility, perceiving it mostly as working time extensions without compensation. However, the trade unions are increasingly opposed to such attempts. While expressing their support for the need to introduce flexible employment – including flexible working time – the trade unions insist on a negotiated flexibility that respects labour rights and provides conditions for a better work–life balance.

Ivan Neykov, Balkan Institute for Labour and Social Policy (BILSP)




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