Industrial relations landscape to change after review

In January 2012, changes were made to the Bulgarian Labour Code which introduced more stringent criteria for social partners acting as national representatives on the tripartite consultative council. When the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy held a national census in line with new representativeness criteria set by the government, only four of the six employers’ organisations previously on the council met the new criteria. Trade union representation remains the same.


In 2010–2011, social partners in Bulgaria began discussions on new criteria for representation at national level on the country’s tripartite council. The council brings together social partners from employer organisations and unions to discuss a range of national issues with the government.

The trade unions wanted more exact criteria for employer associations because many of the employers were members of several associations. Unions felt this caused difficulties at the start of the collective bargaining process, and at the conclusion of the collective branch agreements.

During the discussions, some of the employers’ organisations protested against the Government’s suggested new criteria for their representativeness. They insisted that organisations should qualify on the basis of the number of companies they represented rather than on the total number of employees their members had. The suggested changes, according to the employers, were contrary to freedom of association in employers’ associations as set out in B’s constitution.

In the end, government proposals for new and more stringent criteria for representativeness were approved by Parliament. There was criticism from 55 opposition MPs from the Coalition for Bulgaria, led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms which joined forces to challenge the new rules in Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court.

New criteria

The new criteria are more stringent than those adopted in 2001.

To be representative, a trade union must:

  • have at least 75,000 members (up from 50,000);
  • have organisations in more than a quarter of NACE code-defined economic activities, with at least five members in each, or at least 50 member organisations that have at least five members from different NACE code economic activities.
  • represent staff in local authorities in more than a quarter of Bulgaria’s municipalities, and have both a national managing body and the status of a legal entity, obtained by registration as a non-profit association at least three years before the census.

For employers’ organisations, the requirements introduced were even stricter.

The government wanted to insist that to be representative, an employer organisation must:

  • unite sector/branch structures and companies that have a total of no fewer than 100,000 employees on labour contracts;
  • represent employers in more than a quarter of the NACE code-defined economic activities with no less than 5% of employees in each economic activity, or a minimum of 10 employers in each activity;
  • represent public employers in more than a quarter of Bulgaria’s municipalities, plus a national managing body;
  • fulfil no other role assigned to it by law or other regulation.

However, Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court ruled that the first and last of these four criteria were unconstitutional.

Census results

Based on these criteria, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy carried out a national census of social partners’ organisations.

Two employers’ organisations that represent small and medium businesses – the Union for Economic Initiative (UEI) and the Union of Private Entrepreneurs in Bulgaria (UPEB) – did not submit documents to the census because they could not meet the new criteria.

To preserve the national representation of its members, the UPEB merged with the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA). This was permitted because, under the Labour Code, all subdivisions of employers’ associations recognised as representative at national level are also recognised as representative at local level.

On 25 July 2012, the government announced the census results. Three employer associations met the representativeness criteria – the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA) representing the employers of 244,737 workers, the Confederation of the Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria (CEIBG) (504,984), and BICA (335,805). The decision of the Constitutional Court also meant that the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) (665,714) qualified.

There were no changes in trade union representativeness at national level. Both trade union confederations met the new criteria. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) has 275,762 members and the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (Podkrepa CL) has 88,329 members.


The National Council for Tripartite Cooperation (NCTC) will work under this new configuration, as will a range of national councils built on the tripartite principle in the fields of employment, vocational education, lifelong learning, health and safety and gender equality. The changes will be made in management / supervisory bodies of institutions set up in the areas of employment, social and health insurance, vocational education and training, health and safety, conflict resolution.

Tatiana Mihaylova, ISTUR

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