Working time in the European Union: Bulgaria

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 15 November 2009

Lyuben Tomev

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

In the recent years the Labour Code changes ensured possibility for bigger flexibility in the labour organisation and working time in summary calculation and compensation of the worked hours. However, there are no indications for using the possibilities of mutual (employer and employees) benefit. The tendency of increasing the common average weekly working time and decreasing the relative share of the employees doing part-time working is marked. The extensive increase of working time is a result of low wages and it negatively influenced the possibilities of the labour force to increase quality and productivity. With regard to the improvement of work-life balance, collective bargaining insufficiently stresses issues such as qualification, vocational training, life long learning, balance of flexibility and security

The national contributions collects data inter alia from; firstly the EU Labour Force Survey which covers average hours worked by men and women employees both overall and in part-time and full-time jobs, the proportion of men and women in part-time jobs and the relative number of men and women employed under different arrangements as regards working time. Secondly, from the Fourth European Working Conditions Survey conducted by the European Foundation which covers other aspects of working time, including the number of days worked per week, evening, night and weekend working, the organisation of working time, the proportion of people with second jobs, the time spent commuting as well as on unpaid work.

These data are intended to form the basis of the replies to the questions asked but other relevant data have been used where available to supplement these.

Duration of work

Average weekly hours

Does the evidence from the above surveys, and other sources, indicate that, over the past five or ten years, employees are working fewer hours in Bulgaria?

Is there evidence that any such decline in average working time is due more to compositional changes (e.g. more women entering the labour market and working part-time) than to an across-the-board reduction in hours?

Is there evidence that any fall in average hours over these periods may be due to a reduction in the number of people working very long hours – over 48 per week? Is there evidence that this has been due, to any extent, to the adoption of the EU working time Directive?

Bulgaria is one of the few countries in Europe (together with Czech Republic, France, Lithuania and Austria) where over the past five years (the period 2000-2006) decline in average weekly working time has not been registered and working hours increased from 40.8 hours to 41.0.

Interesting is that the increase as a whole is dictated by the full-time workers (0.5% increase for women as well as for men at the given period of five years). The influence of the average weekly working time of part-time workers is insignificant.

The decline of 1.4% for men and the increase of 1.5% for women is marked. However, the relative share of the part-time workers is exceptionally low and fell from 1.2% to 1.0% for men and from 2.7% to 2.1% for women (Source: EU-Labour Force Survey).

According to the Labour Code the standard working week is 40 hours and five days a week, with the normal duration of the working time per day being 8 hours.

The Labour Code addenda and amendments made in 2004 have been done in order to harmonise the Bulgarian legislation with the European directives on working time (D/93/104/ЕО and D/2000/34/ЕО). The changes allowed the employers to extend the working time to 10 hours per day and to 48 hours per week, but that extension is permitted only for 60 working days per year.

The model set by the above mentioned regulations is confirmed as dominant by data about working time dispersion from the European Working Conditions Survey(EWCS). Half of the workers are within the weekly working time of 40-48 hours. On average 42 hours weekly according to the study, however 5% have working time under 30 hours weekly and another 5% have over 60 hours per week.

There are no direct evidences that country legislation in relation to working time has been harmonised with European directives. The relative share of the workers with long working time (over than 48 hours weekly) is rather high. 21% work more than 48 hours, 60% of these are self-employed, the other 40% are employees.

Annual hours worked

To what extent is the notion of annual working time (calculated to take account of annual holidays, including public holidays, as well as average weekly hours) in common use in political or everyday discussion, or in social partner negotiations?

Is there any evidence that the number of weeks worked per year has declined over the past five or ten years due to increased holidays, or time off for other purposes?

Over the past five years there is no evidence of a change in the number of weeks worked per year by full-time employees. The differences are within plus /minus 20 hours around the average of 1700 annual working hours (Source: Eurostat, National accounts). These differences are rather dictated by the casual circumstances than by changes in the number of official holidays.

The annual working time fund is not a subject for political debate. The social partners are not involved in the negotiations concerning this but the government consults them about the decisions taken.

Usually, the government unilaterally takes decisions about public holidays and rest days and publishes them. Often the government adds holidays aimed to ensure uninterrupted holiday periods, for example around Christmas and New Year. However, those days have to be worked off on Saturdays.

Days of work per week

Is the five-day week the predominant norm, as opposed to other patterns – four days, four and a half-days, five and a half-days, six days?

Are there any obvious trends in this respect – for example, to reduce the number of days worked per week, but to increase the number of hours worked each day?

The predominant continuation of the working week (Source: EWCS) is the five-day week (for 63% of the employed). The relative share of the workers with six-day week is comparatively high (17.1%) and even with seven-day week (14.4%). The extension of the working time is more typical for self-employed but it exists also among employees in the building sector, retail trade, hotels, restaurants and tourism. The schemes with reduced number of days worked per week (under five days) are not popular and are tied mostly to different shift regime, for example in the cases with shifts with 24 work hours which is followed by two resting days. Some of these schemes are regulated by the Labour Code, but the others are implemented by the employers in conformity with individual contracts or with concluded collective agreements.

Full-time and part-time working

Has part-time working grown relative to full-time working over the past five or ten years?

Are there major gender differences in the patterns of part-time working?

Does the government encourage part-time working, either ‘passively’ (i.e. through the workings of social security or taxation rules) or ‘actively’ (e.g. in the sense of particular incentives being offered)?

Over the past five years the part-time working is not increasing, in fact and on the contrary it is decreasing. The relative share of part-time employment is between 1% and 3% and it is twice as high for women. This type of employment is not popular because of the low pay level per hour in Bulgaria. Part-time workers usually strive to work full-time. Because of the low demand of part-time work there is no reason for the government to stimulate any forms of it (as through passive as well as through active mechanisms). Part-time working is more typical for students, pupils, as well as addition work on the side of the main job.

Collective bargaining

What are the main working time concerns and priorities of trade unions in collective bargaining?

Is part-time working generally viewed positively, or accepted reluctantly, by trade unions?

At national level the trade unions, employers and the government negotiated changes in the labour legislation related to the working time. The Labour Code amendments and addenda in 2001 and in 2004 created enough legal grounds to allow the employers to introduce prolonged working time to part-time workers. The possibility to use the summarizing calculation (in a four months period) of the working time through reduction or increasing of the working day was introduced. This gives the opportunity to the employers to have the organisational resource to implement flexible regimes for determining the duration of the working time.

During the discussions concerning Labour Code reforms the trade unions accepted the employers’ demands for bigger flexibility of the working time. They realized that in the uncertain and dynamic business environment it is necessary to give to the employers the opportunity to determine the working time in accordance to production needs.

In the course of accomplished legislative reforms the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) raised the question of gradually decreasing the working week from 40 to 35 hours without pay decrease; through envisaged tax and insurance stimuli for the employers. The employers associations opposed the suggestion and estimated it as prematurely and irrational, because it would decrease the company competitiveness, they argue. The government also refused to take steps for legislative changes in this direction.

In the collective agreements at all levels; working time, leaves, holidays and resting days are in separate special section.

In general negotiations about introducing prolonged or part-time working time are at branch and sector level. Agreements are in general in accordance with Labour Code regulations as well as the regulations about additional days of the yearly pay leave and they are valid for all lowest levels of negotiations. The existing collective bargaining practice in Bulgaria makes it possible to negotiate more favourable conditions at local levels of negotiations than those stipulated by the branch/sector collective agreements.

The continuation of the working time, its distribution, the beginning and end of the working day, shifts and breaks are all regulated in accordance to the Labour Code and is elaborated through participation of trade unions. It is thus possible to include the negotiated collective agreement conditions.

Work schedules

The working day and working week

To what extent does the standard ‘full-time’ working day – 08.00/09.00 to 17.00/18.00 - prevail as the norm?

To what extent does the ‘standard time norm’ of the working week (40 hour, 5 day week) prevail?

There is no exact data but the following scheme of the working time from 08.00/09.00 hour to 17.00/18.00 hour could be said prevailing as the norm, as far as it is typical for non-shift workers in Bulgaria and they are 79% of all workers (Source: EWCS). The schemes 08.00-17.00 is more typical for the company of the industry sector, where there is no shift regime of the working time while the scheme 09.00-18.00 is typical for public sectors (state and municipality administration) and in the area of services.

Based on the data (Source: EWCS), that 63% of the workers work five days weekly and for 49.4% the continuation of the work week is between 39 and 41 hours, than the “standard time norm of the working week” (40 hours and five working days weekly) is typical for the biggest share of the workers, namely between 40 and 45%.

Non-standard work arrangements

To what extent are non-standard working time arrangements – evening, night and week-end work - mainly limited to those sectors of the economy where it is difficult to avoid – e.g. shift working in continuous process plants or lunch-time and evening work in restaurants?

Is there a tendency for non-standard schedules to enter into other areas of the economy, where it may not be strictly necessary, but where it may have attractions – for employers wishing to make more intensive use of their plant, equipment and other facilities, and for workers wishing to attain a better work-life balance or a more convenient means of taking care of children?

To what extent are weekend working and other non-standard working arrangements the result of seasonal work (such as in tourism)?

In comparison to average European values Bulgarians accepts “unsocial working hours” to a greater degree, both among self-employed as well as among employees (Source: EWCS):

  • evening work (between 18.00 and 22.00) occurs for 42.6% of the workers during a month (rarely or more frequently);

  • night (between 22.00 and 05.00 hours) – 21.1% of the workers;

  • Saturday – 58.9% of the workers;

  • Sunday – 39.2% of the workers.

Non-standard working time is typical not only for shift workers. The reason for its expansion in the last 15 years is different for the separate branches:

  • in the construction sector, which is in the private sector, the work in Saturday and Sunday is already something quite ordinary due to the “investment hit” and the big competitiveness in the branch;

  • in the retail trade the basic premise for expending “unsocial working hours” is the full deregulation and lack of working time legislation for shops, which can be opened at any time. The shop just need to register its working hours in the municipality administration and after that announce it in a prominent place in the shop;

  • in the sectors tourism and agriculture the season factor is leading, but also the high relative share of self-employed and family workers, where the trend for “self-exploitation” is high.

As a whole the tendency for labour intensification is valid for the mentioned sectors. The tendency is increasing because of lack of cadres in some specific activities – welders, qualified building specialists, cooks, waiters and others. That intensification is in any case not promoting the work-life balance.

Shift working

How important is regular shift working (as opposed to occasional shifts to cope with increased temporary demand) in Bulgaria?

Is shift-working predominantly carried out in specific sectors, and is there any tendency for it to decline (for example as a result of reducing capacity in traditional sectors) or to increase (as employers everywhere seek to make more intensive use of capital investments)?

What kinds of shift systems dominate – regular mornings, afternoon or nights or mixed patterns?

The relative share of the shift workers in the country (21%) is close to the average share of new EU member states. In most of the old member states the shift worker share is not more than 15% (Source: EWCS). There are different models of shift in Bulgaria. Only 2.6% of the shift workers have daily split shifts, 18.3% have permanent shifts (morning, afternoon or night) and 74.2% have alternating/rotating shifts.

The typical sector using shift regimes is the industry. Totally 71% of the industrial companies use shift working (Source: National Statistical Institute (NSI), Observation of the Labour Market. Business inquiry, June 2004.). 36% is at permanent shift cycle in both the day and night.

Two shift regime (31%) and three shift regime (30%) are most common. Only 8% of the companies work four shift regimes, and only 1% of the industrial companies implement five shift regimes. 41% of the employees in shift regime work regularly in shifts, while another 8% do so sometimes if it is necessary.

There is no available data which shows the development or trends in the using of shift regimes, neither in how it is used nor by branches.

Organisation of working time

Flexibility of working time

How far do individual workers have influence over their own working time arrangements – for example over the time they start and end work?

To what extent is it possible to ‘bank’ hours or days of work – for example to work extra hours for a number of days in order to take day(s) off?

To what extent can workers determine their own work schedules - in other words, work when they like, so long as the work is delivered on time?

From an employee perspective, can a distinction be drawn between ‘positive’ flexibility concerning working time (i.e. arrangements that suit them) and ‘negative’ flexibility (arrangements that suit their employers), or are most arrangements by mutual consent?

Is there evidence that people with higher ranking, better paid jobs are more likely to have greater flexibility regarding their working time arrangements than those with lower ranking/less well paid jobs?

Are there major differences between non-manual workers and manual workers in terms of such flexibility?

Are there major differences between public sector and private sector workers in terms of such flexibility?

Are any major gender differences – for example, are men and women seen to be subject to more or less ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ flexibility?

The biggest part of the workers in Bulgaria (73.4%) has fixed working time (Source: EWCS). That renders the distribution of the time budget and to combine the labour with other life activities inflexible. The time frame in which the employees are placed is stricter than in other member states. Data shows that Bulgaria is at the last place in Europe concerning the possibilities for the employees to have influence over or to choose working time schemes:

- working time arrangements are set by the company with no possibility for changes 92.1%;

- you can choose between several fixed working schedules 1.9%;

- you can adapt your working hours within certain limits 3.6%;

- your working hours are entirely determined by yourself 2.4%.

The possibilities for more flexibility in combining labour and family activities are connected to eventual changes in the beginning and in the end of the working day. The result of the survey carried out by NSI shows that only every fourth can rely on such changes.

Is it possible for you to change the beginning and the end of the working day because family reasons?

- Usually it is possible 25.2%

- Rare it is possible 23.2%

- It is impossible 38.4%

- No answer 13.2%

Source: NSI, Observation of the labour force, Module „Combining the labour and family life” ‘2005.

The possibilities to use free day because of family reasons are similarly disapproving.

Is it possible for you to have free day because of family reasons, without using yearly leave or official hours?

- Usually it is possible (in principal) 26.1%

- Rare it is possible (as an exception) 24.4%

- It is impossible 35.0%

- No answer 14.5%

Source: NSI, Observation of the Labour Force, Module „Combining the Labour and Family Life” ‘2005.

The possibility to choose is important in the search of the optimal work-life balance, the social contacts and free time is a result of the achieved degree of financial security and living standard, realising the internal need and valuation preferences. In this relation the results of one empirical study are very interesting (Source: Problems in the daily round (Social Analysis Agency, ISSP module), where also gender aspects of the problem are presented.

About 1/3 of the respondents wishes to work more, which follows from the relatively low Bulgarian living standard and the labour market situation. More men (37.7%) than women (31.1%) wish to work more. The significant superiority of the women who want to work more wishes to have more free and family time, while the time for friends is equally attractive to both sexes. Indicative is the fact that a big share of the respondents would like to undertake fundamental changes in the way of time using, i.e. they see the need of optimisation of the balance between labour, personal and family life in presence of certain circumstances.

The flexible schemes of labour and working time, allowing using the labour and life activities together are still not popular in Bulgaria. It is difficult to introduce annual working time accounts and suchlike, which at the same time can increase the employment flexibility and guarantee social security, taking in consideration the family and personal values.

Other working time issues

Multiple job holding

How widespread is the practice of multiple jobs holding in Bulgaria?

Are second or third jobs primarily seen as supplementary sources of income relative to a main job, or are all the different jobs seen as equally valid?

As mentioned in the previous section; Bulgarians’ wish to work on the side do not correspond with the availability of the potential possibilities for a second or third job and it even less correspond to the realisation of them. The data shows that 94% do not have another paid job than the main. Only 1% have a regular second paid job, for 1.9% it is occasional, for 2.3% - seasonal, and for 0.8% - other kind (Source: EWCS). The reasons to prefer one job could be founded in the comparatively high continuation of the regular working time and the low flexibility degree of employment and working time as well as insufficient offers of appropriate jobs to combine with the regular job. In the few cases presented by the respondents, the question is not so much of personal presence when working two jobs but of the possibilities to work from one working place on different labour or civil contracts.

The biggest share of the workers relies on illegal sources of incomes. In most of the cases they are not official and they are realised in the shadow economy. The last EC evaluation is that there is a large black market in Bulgaria and from the market the incomes constitutes 35% of GDP.

Commuting time

How much time does commuting typically add to the average ‘working day’ (in the sense of time spent away from home)?

Is commuting commonplace for everybody, or does the time spent vary in any systematic way – such as according to the type of job, or whether people live in urban or rural areas?

Is the development of teleworking (full-time or part-time) seen as a viable and attractive alternative to commuting?

The average time of working day spent on going to work and back to home is 39.5 minutes with a standard deviation of 33.6 minutes (Source: EWCS). The values are about average for Europe and Bulgaria is most close the commuting averages of Hungary, Lithuania and Estonia. Travels from neighbour towns and villages are gradually increasing (reaching in individual cases 120 minutes) and vice versa –employees in small towns and villages have the lowest commuter time consumption to go to the work and back (sometimes less than 15-20 minutes per day). The insufficient infrastructure establishment, the difficulties of the city transport with busy traffic are together the main factors to high commuter times per day. The biggest industrial companies are concentrated outside the cities and usually organise their own transport for the workers. The teleworking is not developed as an alternative employment form and in the few cases it concern it is self-employed and not employees that teleworks.

Unpaid working hours (of those in work)

Is there much debate about the impact of time spent on unpaid work in the home, as well as time spent on paid work, on work-life balance, especially between men and women?

Are there pressures for non-paid work to be more recognised, and for the work involved to be shared more evenly between partners?

The unpaid work for women is 3.6 times more than those to the men (Source: EWCS). Especially drastic is the difference between the sexes in relation to time spent for cooking and home work (2.3 hours weekly for men and 14.4 hours for women). In the recent years the discussion on unpaid work is oriented to some extent towards the achievement of work-life balance as whole, rather than to be oriented to overcome gender differences. Trade unions insist on bigger flexibility of the working time but in the present level of the labour productivity and pay, it is very hard to outline a clearer tendency of changes.

Composite indicators of weekly working hours

Composite indicators of weekly working hours have been developed for full-time and part-time workers, both male and female, which include time spent in unpaid as well as paid work and time spent commuting. What do you see as the most significant implications of these indicators so far as your country is concerned?

Bulgaria is among the countries with the highest values of composite indicators of weekly working hours (63.0), where most of the EU member states belong together with Turkey and Norway (Source: EWCS). The reason for this are not the constituent elements of the “commuting time” or “second paid job”, with insignificant relative share also in the value of the joint indicator. The reasons are instead the indicators “paid working hours in main job” (44.3 hours weekly) and “unpaid working hours” (15.2 hours). Very important are gender differences. The paid work of the main job of the women is about two hours less than the paid work of the men while unpaid is many times bigger and consequently the common indicator “composite indicators of weekly working hours” renders men behind the women (55.6 hours against 71.3 hours). There is no data concerning full-time and part-time work but as mentioned above part-time work is not popular in Bulgaria.

The data clearly shows that, in the future, Bulgaria has to stress on the policies limiting working time as well as on the policies ensuring better work-life balance – especially for women. There are reserves and it is clear by the extensive working time use. A favourable factor in this direction is the increase of labour productivity in parallel with the increase of the working time flexibility.

Lyuben Tomev, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research

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