Bulgaria: CITUB analyses violations of labour rights in 2015

Trade union confederation CITUB has drawn up proposals for amendments to Bulgaria’s Labour Code based on its survey of common code violations. The survey found that almost half of all violations involve the calculation of total working time, which is often used by employers as an opportunity to hide actual overtime and work done during national holidays. 

Background

In March 2016, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CITUB) published a report on labour rights violations in 2015. The analysis was based on information from a range of sources: the Executive Agency of the government’s General Labour Inspectorate (GLI); regional databases of information supplied by CITUB members; and rulings and proceedings from the Supreme Judicial Council. 

CITUB’s analysis of this information identified trends in the violation or suspected violation of labour rights and highlighted typical individual cases. These included violations of:

  • trade union rights;
  • collective labour agreements and obligations to inform and consult employees;
  • health and safety regulations and working conditions;
  • working time regulations and minimum leave and holiday requirements;
  • non-payment of salaries for more than two months by an employer in defiance of legal obligations;
  • social security rights;
  • the proper procedure in individual labour disputes.

Half of the 11,000 breaches of labour-related legislation identified by the survey were violations related to the accumulated calculation of working time that aimed to hide overtime work.

The Bulgarian Bulgarian Labour code provides two options for calculating working time, either per day or accumulated estimation. The use of accumulated calculation was extended in 2001 (PDF), having previously only been allowed for the calculation of working time in continuous production processes and other types of work where working conditions did not allow a daily calculation.

Accumulated working time calculation allows the employer to estimate working time over a week, month or any other period up to six months. The maximum duration of individual working shifts cannot be more than 12 hours and the working week cannot be longer than 56 hours. The employer can initiate this method of working time calculation without changing workers’ employment contracts, but the calculation must include the timeframe for which the estimate will be used and a list of the positions it covers; it must also identify the officials involved in the preparation and processing schedules. With the introduction of this calculation, the employer can then create personal work schedules for each worker during the specified period of aggregation of time. Registered schedules should be kept for at least three years after the end of the period.

Violations of working time and leave regulations

CITUB cites a GLI report on violations of regulations (PDF) that identified 20,481 registered violations of working hours, breaks and holiday regulations in 2015. Most violations took place in the retail, restaurants, health, land transport, food production, and activity security and investigation sectors. Working time violations made up 55% of all registered legislation-related violations of working time, leave and holidays. The majority of these were registered violations of accumulated working time calculations. The next largest category of violations was a failure to comply with the requirements to establish procedures for reporting and distributing working time as part of a company’s internal labour rules. For example, a common practice by employers is to prepare one formal document that sets out the general internal labour rules but does not include the current specific rules.

Employers were found to have used accumulated working time estimation without following the legislative procedures. Some, for instance, do not issue the required written orders for such schedules, or do not produce individual named written working schedules for each employee affected. The GLI data report cases where employers did not record the established accumulated calculation of working time. They were not able to produce documentation that explicitly established this kind of reporting or determined the reference period for the calculation of working time. Some formal work schedules were fictitious, and did not correspond to the actual working time of workers who had continued to perform their duties beyond the end of the working time set out in the documentation.

CITUB concluded that employers who violated the Labour Code in these ways did so to underpay overtime work, and that they used estimation to violate employees’ rights. Lack of working time reporting led to non-payment of overtime or of work done on public holidays. The example offered in the CITUB report comes from in the security and investigation sector where workers often have to cover 24-hour shifts or where the duration of the shifts exceeds the 12 hour maximum set by law.

The CITUB analysis also identified increasing violations in 2015 of the Labour Code provisions that ensure adequate rest for employees. The number of violations in this area in 2015 was 2,471; the majority were violations of provisions for weekly rest (830), followed by violations of statutory periods of daily rest (739). Work of a seasonal nature and occupations where work was organised in shifts were the types of jobs where these violations happened most often.

Night work was another area in which some employers failed to fulfil their Labour Code obligation to provide food, drinks and the necessary facilities to alleviate the circumstances of night work.

Violations of health and safety at work

In Bulgaria, health and safety at work is guaranteed in the Law on health and safety at work 1997. In 2015, there were 111,895 registered violations of health and safety, amounting to 50.3% of all labour-related violations. The largest proportion of such violations concerns the organisation and management of health and safety at work (63,017 or 56.3% of all health and safety-related violations). The most common violations were:

  • failure to organise, conduct and document training for workers on the safe performance of their productive activity (18,241);
  • failure to comply with internal regulations for health and safety at work (9,709);
  • failure to carry out adequate risk assessments (9,434).

These three types of violation represented 59% of this group of legislation violations.

Recorded violations of safety requirements for work equipment and technological processes amounted to 32,208, or 28.8% of the total. Of these, the highest proportion were violations of the rules on electrical safety (41%), suggesting that the danger of electric shock was seriously underestimated by many businesses. Other violations included:

  • disregarded norms for labour hygiene;
  • failure to carry out required medical examinations (3,128);
  • failure to provide sanitary facilities such as toilets and washbasins (2,409);
  • failure to provide personal protective equipment (940);
  • no provision of a physiological regime of work and rest (857).

Inspectors had halted work in 615 instances where machines or facilities were found to be dangerous to the life and health of workers.

CITUB’s report suggests that there has been a steady increase in recent years in compliance with legislation on adapting working conditions to the degree of occupational risk, especially in the sectors of construction, crops and livestock, restaurants and the manufacture of fabricated metal products (excluding machinery and equipment). The intensive work on this issue by the GLI is evaluated by CITUB as ‘effective’. In 2015, 84% of inspected enterprises fulfilled the essential requirements of the Law on health and safety at work and companies inspected in three sectors – the manufacture of basic pharmaceutical products and pharmaceutical preparations, the production of chemical products, and the production of refined petroleum products – were 100% compliant.

CITUB proposals to amend Labour Code

Based on data, legislative analyses and long-standing work on labour-related violations, CITUB has demanded changes to the Labour Code, particularly the need to restrict use of accumulated working time calculation. CITUB argues that liberalisation of this method of calculating working time has led to a number of abuses, including:

  • establishing working days that are longer than legally permitted;
  • the imposition of a six-day working week, instead of the five-day week allowed by the Labour code;
  • the introduction of weekly working hours based on 9.33 hours a day over six days, or 11.2 hours over five days which, while within the allowed 56-hours weekly maximum, imposes regular working hours of more than eight hours a day;
  • a weekly rest period of fewer than 36 consecutive hours or, in some cases, fewer than 24 hours, when the Labour Code demands a regular weekly rest period of at least 48 hours.

CITUB has concluded that the liberalised use of the accumulated working time estimation has become a tool for the disruption of employees’ rights.

This conclusion is supported in a report by the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (PDF), which has warned that Directive 2003/88/EC (covering aspects of the organisation of working time) has been only partially transposed into Bulgarian legislation. Podkrepa has also concluded that the use of accumulated estimation of working time has become a way of circumventing the law and its provisions for working time, rest periods and overtime.

Since March 2013, CITUB has presented its analysis to three successive labour and social policy ministers but there has been no acceptance of a need to change the labour code.

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