Renewed role for National Council for Tripartite Cooperation
In August 2009, just a week after the formation of the new government, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy initiated meetings with the social partners through the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation. As priority areas for action to tackle the economic crisis, the social partners reflected on ways to strengthen and preserve employment, to develop and maintain the financial stability of Bulgaria’s social security systems and to seek more effective use of public funds.
On 5 August 2009, members of the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation (NCTC) held their first meeting chaired by the new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Simeon Dyankov. The main proposals of the meeting were to develop a joint anti-crisis package and to establish an ad hoc NCTC working group to develop the package. The parties agreed that work should begin immediately on implementing the package, which spans until the end of 2010. The provisions will constitute the basis on which Bulgaria’s Social Economic Pact will be elaborated and signed.
Proposals and actions
All three parties at the meeting agreed that the most daunting challenge ahead will be to preserve employment. In June 2009, the level of unemployment stood at 7.3%; if this level reaches more than 10% by the end of the year, the country’s social insurance funds and business conditions will further worsen. In this regard, the government has to reconsider the programmes and measures of active labour market policy in order to achieve more effective results.
For this purpose, an independent analysis will be conducted, comprising an impact assessment of the active measures currently in place; the findings of this analysis will determine which active measures are most effective for job creation and for reducing unemployment in the context of the current economic crisis. The analysis will be assigned to the Bulgarian Economic and Social Council (Икономическият и социален съвет, ESC), whose remit will include devising measures for the National Action Plan for Employment as well as determining the uses of the funds of the operational programme ‘Human Resource Development’ and of Bulgaria’s Social Investment Fund.
National programme for pensioners cancelled
At the proposal of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Totyo Mladenov, and with the consent of the social partners, a decision was adopted to cancel the national programme proposed by the former government – entitled ‘Ensuring possibilities for active ageing, participation of pensioners in the social life and prevention of their social inclusion’ (see original press release, February 2009). A feature of this programme was the free holiday plan, which sought to ‘secure an active social life for pensioners’. While the measure targeted some 15,000 pensioners, only 3,095 of them availed of this possibility. The money left over from the programme will be re-channelled into other activities, such as an initiative to offer free lunches to the most vulnerable groups of society in so-called ‘soup kitchens’.
Reactions of social partners
The proposals were welcomed as a better approach to public funds expenditure by the six representative employer organisations at national level: the Bulgarian Industrial Association (Българска стопанска камара, BIA), the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Българска Търговско-Промишлена Палата, BCCI), the Union of Private Entrepreneurs in Bulgaria ‘Vuzrazhdane’ (Българският съюз на частните предприемачи ‘Възраждане’, Vuzrazdane), the Union for Economic Initiative (UEI), the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria (Конфедерация на работодателите и индустриалците в България, CEIBG) and the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (Асоциацията на индустриалния капитал в България, BICA). The proposals were also welcomed by the trade union organisations the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (Конфедерация на независимите синдикати в България, CITUB) and the Confederation of Labour ‘Podkrepa’ (CL Podkrepa).
The social partner representatives declared their willingness to the NCTC to start work as soon as possible, highlighting that all parties would take responsibility for the measures. In addition, they have asked the government to undertake measures to activate social dialogue at other levels. Minister Mladenov, in a special letter to all ministries of the Cabinet, asked them to name the vice-ministers who will be responsible for the development and implementation of the tripartite cooperation in the respective ministries. The aim is to renew dialogue between the government, trade unions and employers at sector and branch level.
At the end of 2008, when the effects of the global economic crisis started to emerge, the largest trade union organisations in Bulgaria – CITUB and CL Podkrepa – decided to cease their participation in the NCTC. The two organisations considered that social cooperation at national level was ineffective and they were against unilateral decisions being taken by the former government. At the beginning of 2009, the trade unions presented to the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) all documents and regulations adopted by the former government. The unions were particularly critical of the ‘non-observance of the procedure for coordination in the NCTC’. The SAC cancelled the orders with which the regulation for calculation and payment of financial compensation for unemployment were adopted. Through this move, the court was accepting the trade union arguments about Labour Code violation.
In the economic transition period and during the reform phase, attempts were made by other governments to try to ignore the social dialogue process and unilaterally impose their decisions and policies. The experience shows that social peace was seriously tested during their governance. The situation is particularly critical in the current climate of deep recession, when the country could really benefit from consensus on joint measures and programmes. The new government’s first steps and declared enthusiasm for cooperation has evoked a greater sense of optimism among the social partners.
Lyuben Tomev, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)