Government to clamp down on breaches of employment rights

In July 2008, the Bulgarian government announced a package of measures aimed at improving the enforcement of employment and health and safety law. The Labour Code will be amended to increase the fines on employers breaching the law and to introduce new inspection powers and employers’ obligations. The package also includes a campaign to encourage workers to report breaches of labour law at their workplaces.

Government announces initiatives

On 16 July 2008, draft amendments to the Labour Code, aimed at improving the enforcement of employment rights, were announced at a press conference given by the Prime Minister, Sergei Stanishev, and the Labour Minister, Emilia Maslarova. The proposals had been discussed in June by the social partners represented on the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation (NCTC). It is expected that the amendments will be approved by parliament in October.

‘The government could not be indifferent to workers being exploited in a manner totally out of tune with the 21st century and EU policy’, said Sergey Stanishev. The proposed amendments to the Labour Code are part of a consistent government policy of guaranteeing both a favourable business climate and the promotion of EU labour and social standards, he added. The Prime Minister appealed to citizens to be more ‘socially active’ and to stand up for their rights.

The Labour Minister said that companies which persistently breach employment laws will be banned from access to EU funds. She announced the launch of a campaign entitled’Work legally’ aimed at encouraging the reporting of workplace violations, a telephone hotline called ‘Defend your labour rights’ and a blog on the subject (socialni.bg).

Main amendments proposed

  • The Labour Code amendments would increase tenfold the fines for breaching employment legislation and introduce more rigorous control over the observance of workers’ labour rights. The fines on those employers who do not provide healthy and safe working conditions would range from BGN 3,000 to BGN 10,000, up from the current BGN 250 to BGN 1,000. Hiring an employee without a written employment contract or failing to declare an employee’s full earnings would carry a maximum fine of BGN 15,000.
  • The fines for employees not using protective equipment would increase from the current BGN 20-250 to BGN 100-500.
  • Labour inspectors' powers would be extended to include the possibility to close down, temporarily, companies breaching the law. They would also be allowed to photograph any violations and use this as evidence in court.
  • Employers would be obliged to draw up ‘internal workplace rules’ governing working conditions, after consultation with workers’ representatives.
  • Employers would be obliged to provide continuing vocational training for employees, especially after they have taken long periods of leave.

Furthermore, the proposed Labour Code amendments would – in order to encourage shared parenthood – give working fathers an entitlement to 15 days’ paid paternity leave to take care of the newborn child, and to share the maternity leave with the mother.

Employers’ positions

While supporting in principle a rise in fines for breaching employment law, the employer organisations consider the proposed tenfold increase to be too high. In a statement, the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA) argued that the new sanctions might lead to large-scale corruption, and the high fines might lead to the bankruptcy of some small and micro-companies. The BIA chair said that the obligatory adoption of ‘internal workplace rules’ would contradict the aim of decreasing the administrative burden on business.

The Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) issued a statement sharply objecting to most of the proposals, notably the sharp increase in fines, the introduction of paid paternity leave and the proposed obligation on employers to provide continuing training.

Trade union and workers’ views

While supporting the stiffer sanctions to be imposed on employers, both representative trade union confederations are critical of the proposed increase in fines on employees. In the view of the vice-president of the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (CL Podkrepa), breaches of the law by workers are mostly due to a lack of knowledge. He is also not optimistic that fines will be duly collected.

In a statement, the largest trade union confederation, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB), welcomed the proposed amendments, which take up many of its proposals. However, it expressed a number of concerns, for example arguing that fines imposed on workers should be differentiated according to their pay level, and calling for an institutionalised role for workers’ representatives in overseeing the observance of employment rights.

At the press conference launching the proposals, the government presented the findings of a public opinion poll on its planned changes to labour legislation. These indicate that respondents shared the government’s view that stricter enforcement is needed. The great majority (87%) supported the increase in fines and expected that the measures would lead to better observation of their employment rights and to improved working conditions.

Commentary

With the proposed package of changes to the Labour Code, the government expresses a commitment to increasing the effectiveness of its policy on employment and working conditions. In July and August, as part of the ‘Work legally’ campaign, the Chief Labour Inspectorate carried out 5,100 inspections in companies, most of them following up allegations of employment law breaches made on the socialni.bg website

Nadezhda Daskalova, ISTUR

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