Social partners support new framework for health and safety at work

In late 2008, the Bulgarian government approved the first National Programme for Health and Safety for 2009. The programme aims to implement the National Health and Safety at Work Strategy 2008–2013, which focuses on improving the quality of prevention policies and control towards risk preventive health and safety. It targets an 8% reduction in workplace accidents. The new framework relies on the shared responsibility of all stakeholders and wider social partner involvement.

Improved regulatory framework for health and safety at work

In December 2008, the government undertook a series of legislative initiatives aiming to improve health and safety at work in Bulgaria. Such initiatives included amendments to the Working conditions law (in Bulgarian, 207Kb MS Word doc) and Labour Code (1.09Mb MS Word), a new Law for labour inspection, a National Strategy for Health and Safety at Work 2008–2013 (in Bulgarian, 2.3Mb MS Word doc) and a National Programme for Health and Safety for 2009 (in Bulgarian, 275Kb MS Word doc).

The new framework targets better working conditions, improved well-being and quality of work of employees. It is in line with the Community legislation in the field, especially with the Community strategy 2007–2012 on health and safety at work. The national strategy aims to reduce accidents at work by 25% by 2013 while it is expected that the implementation of the Health and Safety Programme for 2009 will lead to an 8% decrease in the number of workplace accidents. This objective becomes all the more necessary as the incidence of occupational accidents and diseases, although diminishing in recent years, is still high. To this end, the regulatory framework envisages measures and outlines the responsibilities of all stakeholders in four priority areas.

Main priorities of health and safety framework

The four priority areas of the health and safety framework include:

  • guaranteeing proper implementation of the occupational safety and health (OSH) legislation;
  • promoting and implementing sectoral strategies;
  • managing new occupational risks;
  • promoting changes in employee and employer attitudes towards an approach based on health protection.

Enhanced social dialogue

The new OSH framework is centred around wider social partner participation. The government considered the social partners’ support for the effective implementation of the OSH policy as a valuable resource. The challenge, however, facing both the government and the social partners is to transform this support into concrete initiatives and shared responsibility. The improvement of social dialogue at national, sectoral and company level and social partners’ capacity building are considered important tools in this respect. The social partners also have a major role to play in terms of reaching agreements, motivating a risk preventive culture and practical policy implementation at the workplace.

The Programme 2009 also provides for the following measures:

  • training employers and worker representatives in the committees and sectoral or industry councils for health and safety;
  • carrying out information and awareness-raising campaigns on risk prevention;
  • organising tripartite workshops and conferences;
  • publishing and disseminating learning materials in the field of OSH;
  • increasing joint control and monitoring of the OSH policy implementation;
  • establishing a new tripartite body – the National Council for Labour Inspection.

Social partner views

The new framework was drafted with the participation of the social partners and was largely discussed in the National Tripartite Council for Health and Safety at Work and the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation at different stages of its adoption. Despite some criticism, the social partners reached a consensus on the framework and are committed to supporting its effective implementation.

Employers

While expressing general approval of different parts of the framework, the employers emphasised the need to support in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and to provide for financial relief for these enterprises. The Българска стопанска камара - съюз на българския бизнес (BIA, Bulgarian Industrial Association – Union of the Bulgarian Business) also proposed some measures to encourage employers to combine their efforts on risk reduction – for example, decrease social security contributions paid for occupational accidents and diseases, or introduce stricter rules for early retirement depending on the type of work. They strongly opposed the new higher fines imposed on employers for poor working conditions (BG0809039I)

Trade unions

The Конфедерация на независимите синдикати в България (CITUB, Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria) was satisfied with the good working atmosphere for developing the framework and with the fact that many of its proposals have been taken up. However, the confederation was dissatisfied with the rejected proposals for trade union labour inspectors, financial incentives for employers investing in working conditions and a reduction of accident rates differentiated by branch aiming to guarantee the 25% target by 2013.

Commentary

The new OSH policy framework is a result of both compromise and consensus reached by the government and social partners. It provides a common platform for addressing health and safety at work with the contribution of the social partners. The successful implementation of the new framework requires shared responsibility, commitment and active participation in coherent actions of all stakeholders. This can ensure workplace health and safety and higher productivity conducive to the growth of company competitiveness and employees’ quality of life.

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

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