National agreement for textiles sector negotiated at time of crisis

Social partners in the Bulgarian textiles and leather industry renewed their national collective agreement in April 2010. The agreement was reached between the Bulgarian Association of the Knitwear Industry, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Light Industry at CITUB and the Federation of Light Industry at Bulgaria’s second largest union CL Podkrepa. It preserved a pact on wages and jobs despite the economic crisis and some differences of opinion.

On 1 April 2010, the branch collective agreement (BCA) was reached for employees of the knitwear industry after a month and a half of negotiations. The agreement will last for a period of two years. On the trade union side, it was signed by: Georgi Stankov, President of the Federation of Independent Trade Union Organisations in Light Industry (FOSIL) at the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and Kiril Peykov, President of the Federation of Light Industry at Bulgaria’s other main union – the Confederation of Labour ‘Podkrepa’ (CL Podkrepa).

On the employer side, the signatory was Stefan Kolev, President of the Bulgarian Association of the Knitwear Industry (BBSTP).

The parties agreed to keep the clauses of the current agreement, given the complex crisis in the industry.

Main issues of focus

The main issues discussed related to the development of the industry, labour productivity and wages, training, retraining and staff qualification, and workplace safety. Current problems addressed by the new BCA were the issues of pay for reduced hours, and the threshold for the minimum social insurance incomes.

Provisions of agreement

The main provisions of the agreement are as follows.

  • The parties agreed that the minimum wage for knitwear workers ‘should be not less than 110% of the national minimum wage during normal working hours’. The wage amount is updated twice a year to compensate for the inflation rate according to National Statistical Institute (NSI) data.
  • The duration and distribution of working hours and time off, the methods of reporting working time as well as the introduction of part-time and long working hours, shift and overtime work, depending on the activity and conditions of work, shall be determined by internal rules, after preliminary consultations with FOSIL and the Federation of Light Industry and in accordance with the Labour Code and regulations.
  • Companies in the industry should periodically check, in accordance with the requirements of Article 137 of the Labour Code, the working conditions of certain jobs and employees aged under 18 years. The trade unions are informed about the results of these inspections.

Union and employer positions

According to FOSIL and the Federation of Light Industry, the negotiations were very difficult. Unions felt the talks were inefficient because the employers are from numerous organisations. Even so, in this time of crisis, everyone’s efforts were concentrated on preserving what had already been achieved. Despite this, the BCA is not implemented in practice, serving only as a basis for negotiating at lower levels. Most of the small and medium enterprises in light industry are not members of employer organisations. In multinational companies, the achieved agreements are also not being observed because the BCA does not cover these companies.

The President of BBSTP, Mr Kolev, believes that there was compromise on both sides in order to agree the size of the minimum wage, the additional paid leave for working under hazardous health conditions, and compensation for work carried out during irregular hours. The BCA complies with all International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions ratified by Bulgaria.

The parties are to register the BCA at the General Labour Inspectorate Executive Agency (GLI-EA) within 30 days of signing it. Trade unions and employer organisations have agreed to take every opportunity to participate in European-funded projects for vocational training and lifelong learning.

Commentary

The parties have agreed to ask the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Totyu Mladenov, to extend the BCA to all companies in the knitwear industry. This request is crucial, especially now in a time of crisis. The BCA is mandatory, but as mentioned, many workers may not benefit from it because their employers are not members of the relevant associations.

Violeta Zlateva, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)

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