Mixed reaction to new labour law amendments

In late 2008, a number of important changes were made to the Bulgarian labour legislation, which came into effect on 1 January 2009. These include new provisions for the registration of collective agreements and enlarged scope of the employer’s obligations in the employment relationship, as well as with regard to training and health and safety. Significant amendments relate to maternity leave and stricter controls on compliance with the labour law.

In December 2008, the Bulgarian parliament adopted a set of changes amending and supplementing the country’s labour legislation, aiming towards further harmonisation with the relevant European Union directives (BG0603019I, BG0604039I, BG0804039I). Some of the most important amendments to the Labour Code (in Bulgarian, 1.2Mb MS Word doc) are summarised below.

Wider scope

In line with the requirements for equal treatment and the free movement of workers in the European Community, the scope of the Labour Code has been enlarged to encompass the employment relationship of EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss citizens.

Changes regarding maternity leave

Maternity leave has increased from 315 to 410 calendar days. Furthermore, the Labour Code amendments entitle working fathers to 15 days of paid paternity leave to take care of a newborn child; this leave provision aims to encourage parents to share their caring responsibilities. Fathers are also provided with an opportunity to share the maternity leave with the mother, with the option of taking the remainder of the 410 days when the child reaches six months of age.

Dismissal protection is now extended to fathers using the 15-day paternity leave or the remainder of the maternity leave. They can only be dismissed if the company closes down.

Increased employer obligations

The employer’s right to draw up ‘internal workplace rules’ has been transformed into an explicit obligation. These rules must contain the employee and employer rights and responsibilities, and should be prepared in consultation with worker representatives.

In addition, employers’ obligations to provide documents at the employees’ request have been expanded. The employer is now required to issue – within 14 days of the employee’s written request – the following documents: a job description, documents related to the employment relationship, a recommendation or notice of dismissal.

The legislative amendments introduce mandatory requirements for both the employer and the employee, related to their joint efforts in maintaining and continually improving employees’ qualifications. The employer is responsible for providing vocational training and upgrading employees’ professional skills, especially for those who return to work after a long absence. For their part, the employees are obliged to participate in company training.

Stricter monitoring

Major amendments relate to increased control over compliance with the labour legislation. The powers of the General Labour Inspectorate (Главна инспекция по труда) have been extended and sanctions (in Bulgarian, 370Kb PPT file) for breaching the labour law are significantly higher (BG0809039I). Thus, employers will have to pay greater attention to health and safety regulations, for example, as well as with regard to contractual and other legislative obligations.

System for registration of collective agreements

The amendments add new provisions for the registration of collective agreements in the National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration (Националния институт за помирение и арбитраж, NICA). This body is responsible for establishing and maintaining the information system of collective agreements.

Other amendments

Further changes to the Labour Code concern the following measures:

  • expanding the scope of cases where dismissal compensation is due, to include dismissals when the employee refuses to follow the company in case of its relocation;
  • recognition of marginal work – of up to five days a month – as an employment relationship;
  • admissibility of overtime in cases where the commenced work cannot be finished during the regular working time.

Social partner views

The social partners in the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation widely discussed the draft proposal for Labour Code amendments. Not all of the changes received the same degree of approval and some met with strong criticism, especially on the part of employers.

While supporting the establishment of an information system for collective agreements and expanded provisions for overtime, employers are united in their opposition to many of the other amendments. They believe that new requirements for issuing internal workplace rules and other documents will impose a further administrative burden on employers, especially on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The Bulgarian Industrial Association (Българска стопанска камара, BIA) argued in its statement (in Bulgarian, 259Kb MS Word doc) that this contradicts the government aim of reducing the administrative burden on companies.

Moreover, in its statement (in Bulgarian), the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Българска Търговско-Промишлена Палата, BCCI) sharply objected to the introduction of 15 days of paid paternity leave and the obligation to provide vocational training after an employee returns from a long absence.

The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (Конфедерация на независимите синдикати в България, CITUB) and the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (Страница на КТ Подкрепа, CL Podkrepa) made specific proposals in the course of discussions aiming towards the better protection of employee rights. In a statement, CITUB welcomed the proposed amendments, which adopt many of its recommendations. However, it expressed a number of concerns, for example on the enlarged provisions for overtime and the lack of clarity regarding the content of the documents which the employer is obliged to issue.

Commentary

The recent Labour Code amendments are generally favourable to employees. The controversy between the social partners is mainly along the lines of the flexibility–security or ‘flexicurity’ debate. Unsurprisingly, employers have expressed their discontent with some changes, viewing them as impediments to the liberalisation of the employment relationship.

Nadezhda Daskalova, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)

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