Unions say employment strategy is unrealistic

On 9 October 2013, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria adopted an updated employment strategy for 2013–2020, in response to the falling employment rate. The strategy, developed by a working group composed of institutional experts and actively participating social partners and academics, sets an employment target of 76% by 2020. Given the financial resources available, this objective has been criticised by unions as being too ambitious.

Employment strategy for 2013–2020

On 9 October 2013, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria adopted an updated employment strategy for 2013–2020. The strategy was developed in response to the falling employment rate as a result of the global economic and financial crisis and by the deepening unprecedented demographic crisis in the country. During 2008–2011 the coefficient of employment dropped 7.7 percentage points, while the unemployment rate increased from 5.6% to 12.3%.

Trade unions’ views

The employment strategy was developed by a working group of institutional experts and actively involved social partners and academics. During the discussion, the trade unions suggested measures to help employees to combine professional and family life, encourage labour mobility and control the migration which is depopulating many regions.

Employers’ proposals

The employers stressed that national plans for employment needed to take into account dramatic regional economic differences. They reminded the working group that Europe’s most underdeveloped and indigent region is in Bulgaria. It is also urgent to develop an information system containing data needed by the employers.

Following analysis and discussion of the social and economic situation in the country and its labour market, the majority of the proposals made by unions and employers’ organisations were adopted. The strategy was discussed and then adopted first by the National Council for Promotion of Employment and then the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation.

The strategy is in accordance with the main requirements and documents of the European Union: the European Strategy for Employment, the Europe 2020 Strategy and the European committee’s guidelines. The strategy is also in compliance with the requirements and the recommendations of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the national reform program of the Republic of Bulgaria for 2013–2020.

Challenges ahead

The proposed strategy faces several challenges, including:

  • increased unemployment;
  • low qualification and educational levels of job seekers, creating a discrepancy between their skills and the skills demanded by the labour market;
  • slow recovery from the recession and slow growth in new workplaces;
  • low quality of workplaces and slow growth in technological renewal and innovation;
  • proliferation of unauthorised employment;
  • massive differences between regions;
  • an unprecedented demographic crisis caused by an ageing population and high migration.

The strategy aims to raise living standards and encourage social inclusion by creating the conditions for the improvement of workforce quality, and to increase employment through intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Objectives of the strategy

The aims of the strategy coincide with the country’s objectives under the Europe 2020 strategy up to 2020. However, the Bulgarian strategy extends its range beyond vulnerable groups to the wider population. The strategy’s main objectives to be reached by 2020 include a 76% rate of employment, one percentage point higher than the target set by the EU, and reducing youth unemployment to 7% (28% in 2012).

Priorities for employment

To meet the skills needs of the labour market and an increase in productivity, workforce quality must be increased. To achieve this, the strategy identifies a need for:

  • improved access to education and training;
  • a decrease in school dropout levels and better integration of school leavers into the labour market;
  • improved quality and efficiency of educational and training systems;
  • improved connection between education and training and the needs of the labour market;
  • participation in lifelong learning;
  • integration into the labour market of vulnerable groups, such as the young and the long-term unemployed;
  • better work-life balance for employees;
  • workforce mobility and measures to manage workforce migration;
  • reduction of regional differences in labour markets and employment rates;
  • an improved business environment for small- and medium-sized business to encourage entrepreneurship;
  • safe and healthy working conditions;
  • better industrial relations and social partnerships;
  • improved labour legislation.

Implementation and monitoring

The updated strategy will be implemented from now until 2020 through annual national action plans for employment that include costings of the policies. The social partners were involved in the creation of the plan and will help to monitor its implementation. The monitoring process will include checking and evaluating by a system of indicators which will also be used to track implementation of the employment guidelines accepted by the European Commission’s employment committee.

Reactions to the strategy

During the discussions, the unions said that, given the available financial resources and the short-term plan for increasing the numbers of people in work, it would be difficult to achieve a 76% rate of employment. They said the target was too ambitious.

However, government representatives insist the target has been set in line with the requirements of the Europe 2020 Strategy and cannot therefore be changed at this stage.

Bozhidar Arsov, ISTUR

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