Inequality and discrimination in employment still high

A survey to investigate equality and discrimination in the workplace in Bulgaria has revealed that age, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation are the most frequently cited grounds for discrimination in the workplace. Age discrimination is more common against those over the age of 50 than against the youngest workers. Different sexual orientation is considered a potential problem by 40% of people surveyed in big companies, and by 52% of employers of smaller enterprises.

About the study

A survey, Equality and discrimination in the workplace (in Bulgarian), was commissioned by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (MLSP) and the Commission for Protection against discrimination (KZD). It was part of a project, Progress Towards Equality: National Effective and Innovative Practices to Combat and Prevent Discrimination (in Bulgarian, 1.64Mb PDF), devised to comply with the European Union’s PROGRESS 2007–2013 programme. The purpose of the survey was to assess public perceptions of equality and discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, age, religion, sexual orientation, health status (disability) and gender.

The national representative survey had a sample size of 1,000 adults aged 18 and over, in 86 locations across the country. Field work was carried out in 2010 by the National Centre for the Study of Public Opinion.

Main findings

Ethnic discrimination

About half the respondents (50.3%) said they were ‘rather worried’ about discrimination in the workplace. Most concerned were people aged 40–49 years (61%) and people of Romany origin (68%).

Disability was most frequently cited as likely to be a disadvantage in the workplace (76.1%), followed by being over 50 years of age (58%), being of Roma origin (57.9%) and having a different sexual orientation (50%). However, ethnic origin appeared to be the main disadvantage if all reponses to the three questions specifically related to ethnicity – Roma, Turk or ‘other’ – are taken into account. (Figure 1).

Other key discrimination factors

A large number of employees (90%) considered that disability was a disadvantage in the workplace. Being aged over 50 years was considered a problem for 50% of respondents, Roma ethnicity was an issue for 60%, while having a different sexual orientation was seen as a disadvantage in the labour market by 52% of employees.

The authors of the study suggest that there is a high risk of ‘multiple discrimination’ on the grounds of gender and age, since more women (60.5%) than men (55.4%) considered being aged over 50 a disadvantage.

Figure 1: Members of social groups who feel disadvantaged in the workplace (%)

Figure 1: Members of social groups who feel disadvantaged in the workplace (%)

Source: Equality and Discrimination, 2010

Note: Multiple-choice question

Personal experience of discrimination

Among respondents who had personally been subjected to discrimination, the highest proportion said age was a factor (13.4%), followed by ethnicity ( 8.1%) and gender (5%). Age discrimination was more frequently cited by people over 50 (29%) than by young people (13.5%). It was also more likely to be cited by respondents with a higher education and by Turks. Ethnic origin was considered a disadvantage largely by Roma people (24.4%) and Turks (12.6%). This compared with 6.9% for ethnic Bulgarians. Gender was perceived as grounds for discrimination by 4.9% of women and 4.8% of men.

Age discrimination

The survey revealed that age (15.5%), ethnic origin (5%) and gender (4%) were among the most frequent reasons why people felt they had not offered jobs they had applied for. These were more likely to be cited by people aged over 50 (30.6%), followed by those in the age group 40–49 (19.1%) and 18–29 (18.8%).

Better educated people were the least likely to claim age discrimination. One in ten said their age was a reason for a ‘rather negative attitude’ from their employer and colleagues in the workplace.

Age was also given as a reason by 5.5% of those aged between 15 and 29 years and 6% of those aged over 50 years for why their employers had not promoted them. Lack of promotion for other reasons was cited by about 0.5% to 1% of respondents.

For more than half of the respondents, the risk of being sacked or given a less well paid position in the pre-retirement period was seen as higher for Roma (56.4%) and for people with disabilities (54%). Almost half (47.7%) thought women were more likely than men (34.8%) to face this risk.

A gender wage gap was also perceived by some. The survey showed that 15% of respondents believed men earned more than women in identical positions. Just 1.8% thought the opposite was true, while nearly half of the respondents (43.9%) thought men and women were equally paid.

Discrimination against social groups

The survey asked workers to assess how likely they believed it was that someone would be hired if they belonged to a distinct social group. It also asked how likely they were to be included in training or to receive a promotion. Responses differed significantly depending on the respondents’ personal profile (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Likelihood of being hired, included in training or promoted by social group (%)

Figure 2: Likelihood of being hired, included in training or promoted by social group (%)

Source: Equality and Discrimination, 2010


The survey suggests strongly that people with disabilities, people aged over 50, people having a different skin colour and with different ethnic and national origin are less likely to be employed, and are less likely to be included in training or to receive promotion.

The social partners’ representatives participated in all seminars organised in the framework of the project Progress Towards Equality. In their presentations they emphasised their commitment to tackling discrimination in the workplace. They said they would do this through meaningful social dialogue and the inclusion of provisions prohibiting discrimination on all grounds in collective agreements at all levels.

The representatives of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) have produced a guide on diversity in the workplace under the project framework.


Stoilova, R. (2011), Survey on equality and discrimination: Final report, project ‘Progress Towards Equality’, short version available at, Sofia.

Commission For Protection Against Discrimination (2011), Guide on diversity at the workplace (in Bulgarian) available at:, Sofia

Nadezhda Daskalova, ISTUR




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