Bulgaria has about 7.6 million inhabitants and some 2.2 million workers. In 1946 it became a Socialist state with a single-party system. In 1989 the Communist Party allowed multi-party elections, and subsequently Bulgaria transitioned to democracy and a market-based economy. Most commercial activities are concentrated in the capital Sofia. The strongest sectors of the economy are heavy industry, power engineering and agriculture.
The Bulgarian OSH system includes several ways for workers to participate. However, legal implementation is lagging behind,  partly due to difficulties in reaching the SMEs, which make up more than 95% of companies and employ about 75% of the workforce, and also because of structural difficulties.
At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are contained in Article 19 and 20 of the ILO Convention C155 on Occupational Safety and Health . Bulgaria has not ratified this convention .
Article 12 of the (non-binding) ILO Recommendation R 164  describes more specific rights and options for employees and their representatives regarding worker participation. Recommendation R 129 contains general provisions on communication between employers and workers .
European and national level
The European Directive 2002/14/EC (general framework for informing and consulting employees)  requires employers to inform and consult workers via the workers’ representatives, in three specific areas:
- the recent and probable development of the undertaking's or the establishment's activities and economic situation
- the situation, structure and probable development of employment and any anticipatory measures envisaged
- decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations
The Bulgarian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy set up a tripartite commission, (government and social partners), to work on transposing the directive into the labour legislation . In July 2006, the partners agreed on the introduction of new arrangements allowing for the election of employee representatives specifically for the purpose of information and consultation. However, the general meeting of all employees, or the meeting of elected delegates with the same functions (see below), can instead decide to give these new rights to the existing union organisations, or to existing employee representatives elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests .
The legislative basis for worker information and consultation on OSH at European level is provided by OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC . Worker participation is a fundamental part of the OSH management framework promoted in this directive. This directive was transposed into Bulgarian law by amending the Health and Safety at Work Law (HSWL) ].
Role of the trade unions
Besides the transposed directives, the role of workers’ representatives is regulated by the Labour Code, which also determines the activities of the trade unions .
Only recognized representative worker organisations s can sit on a range of tripartite bodies, made up of unions, employers and the government (see below). These bodies have both an advisory role and also administer parts of the social security system. Representative unions have specific collective bargaining rights (see below). In order for a workers’ organisation to acquire this status, it must fulfil the conditions laid down in article 34 of the Labour Code ; i.e. the organisation shall have:
- at least 50,000 members
- at least 50 organizations with not less than 5 members each in more than half of the industries set forth in the National Classification of Industries
- local bodies in more than half of the municipalities in the country and a national managing body
- legal entity status […].
Two union confederations meet these criteria: the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria, KNSB (English: CITUB) and the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa. KNSB/CITUB emerged with a reformed structure from the official trade union confederation of the communist period. Podkrepa was established in February 1989, as part of the opposition movement to the then communist government. KNSB/CITUB has always been larger than Podkrepa; figures compiled for the most recent trade union census in 2007 show 328,000 members for KNSB/CITUB and 91,000 for Podkrepa. Both are affiliated to the international and European trade union confederations ITUC and ETUC .
There are also a number of unions outside the two main confederations. Two smaller unions split from Podkrepa CL in the mid 1990s – namely, the Association of Democratic Unions and the National Trade Union. They used to be recognised as nationally representative, and participated in tripartite social dialogue structures (1994–1997). Despite still having some branch and local organisations, they no longer meet the criteria for representativeness.
Some unions cover a number of specific occupations, including journalists, fire-fighters, and some jobs in air and sea transport. Others relate to specific sectors, such as electricity generation and banking, and are not affiliated to any branch or national trade union organisation, nor do they have many affiliated local organisations. There are also police unions and the union of fire-fighters, which by law are not allowed to affiliate to the main union confederations .
There are also trade union confederations which emerged as rivals to the two main confederations in the 1990s. One of these is Promyana, which came into existence in 1996 with the purpose of overthrowing the then socialist government. It is not merely a trade union, as it includes other social and civic organisations. Promyana met the criteria of a representative workers’ organisation for a certain period, but lost the status after protests from KNSB/CITUB and Podkrepa . The fragmentation of the union movement weakens the role workers could otherwise play in participating in the common development of the society.
As regards the security system, the supervisory board consists of one representative of the nationally represented workers’ organisations and one employer representative and an equal number of representatives determined by the Council of Ministers. The mandate is four years. The members elect a chair and two vice-chairs from its members, on the principle of rotation .
Councils for Tripartite Cooperation
The National Council for Tripartite Cooperation, NCTC, was set up in 1993 by the government. It brings the government together with the two main trade union confederations and a number of employer organisations (varying over time due to their status). The employers’ organisations must meet similar criteria as the trade unions .
The NCTC has standing commissions on a number of issues. It initiates cooperation and consultation over issues concerning labour, social security and living standards. At this level, social dialogue on OSH is coordinated by the National Council on Working Conditions, NCWC (Националният съвет по условия на труд), organised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. Worker representatives (from the recognised representative bodies) thus have the opportunity to influence the legislative process, the labour inspection, etc. 
There are currently six representative employers’ associations. They must have at least 500 members and meet criteria in terms of members across the country and across the sector .
There are also regional and sectoral councils on working conditions, with 25 sectoral councils cover industry, energy, construction, transport, leather industry, and railroad transport. They are made up of workers’ and employers’ representatives and an equal number of representatives from the ministry or agency coordinating the sector.
The regional councils consist of representatives of the workers and employers in the region and an equal number of local administration representatives. They coordinate the activity of the labour inspectorate at their respective level. They may assign (by tender) or approve projects to be financed by the Working Conditions Fund.
There is no collective bargaining at national level. According to other sources, there have been negotiations on annual agreements on a recommended pay increase index in the private sector since 2007 ). Bargaining takes place at both sector and company level, as well as at municipal level for municipal workers. Company level bargaining has become more important following the trend of decentralisation  . However, the role of sector collective bargaining is also growing. Since 2003, collective bargaining at sector level is being extended to include annual negotiations on minimum social security thresholds .
The typical bargaining structure is two-tier; sector-level agreements provide a basic framework, while company/organisation level agreements set out the key details. The Labour Code states, in article 52, that the individual employer, the group of employers, and their organisations shall negotiate with the workers' representatives to conclude a collective agreement. However, this does not always happen in practice .
Where a sector agreement has been signed by all the representative unions and employers, the government can, at their request, extend it to all the employers in the sector. Until 2009 no sector level agreements had been extended in this way, but in 2010, four agreements covering wood and furniture, water supply, brewing and the paper and pulp industry were extended to all employers and staff in those industries .
At company level, the employer negotiates with the unions present in the workplace, whether or not they are affiliated to a representative trade union. Where there are several unions in a company, the legislation encourages them to present a common claim, and, where this is not possible, the legislation states that the employer should reach an agreement with the union(s) whose claim has been approved by a majority of workers at a general meeting, or by a majority of those elected as delegates of their fellow workers, if a general meeting of all workers cannot be arranged .
At municipal level, only bodies belonging to representative unions (who should present a common position) are entitled to bargain. Similarly, at sector level, only representative unions can bargain .
Board level representation
Bulgarian companies can either have a single-tier board or a two-tier board - i.e. both a management and a supervisory board. Workers have no rights to board-level representation. However, in public limited companies with 50 employees or more, specially elected worker representatives can participate in shareholder meetings on a consultative basis. In private limited companies, these representatives can participate in shareholder meetings, regardless of the size of the workforce – but only on social issues. The representatives are elected by the general meeting of all workers (or by the elected worker delegates if a general meeting is not possible) .
Working Conditions Committees / Groups
According to the Bulgarian Health and Safety at Work Law (HSWL) , the employer must consult with workers or their representatives and organisations, so that they may participate in matters that may affect their health and safety. HSWL provides the framework for social dialogue at enterprise level and also cooperation between enterprises for work purposes.
In enterprises with 50 or more employees, Working Conditions Committees (WCC) should be established , while smaller companies (5 to 50 employees) should set up Working Conditions Groups (WCG). There are no regulations for smaller companies. WCCs include employer representatives and an equal number of workers’ representatives for health and safety at work (safety representatives). Committees may include representatives of the supervisory authorities of the occupational health service and outside experts. The WCC Chairman is the employer or his representative and the deputy is a workers’ representative. In contrast, WCGs consist of the employer or the manager of the respective unit and of one workers’ representative (safety representative).
WCC/WCG and trade union representatives are entitled to take part in the investigation of workplace accidents and occupational diseases.
The training of the representatives in the WCC/WCG is regulated by Ordinance No. 4 of 03 November 1998 concerning the training of representatives in the working conditions committees and groups in the enterprises . The initial training should be no less than 30 hours and should be done within a month of the member’s election in WCC/WCG. At this stage, the members learn about legislation, risk identification and assessment, risk prevention and measures for health promotion, state and company policy on OSH, as well as employee training, monitoring and control. A certificate is awarded upon successful completion of the course, and the training organisation prepares a report for the General Labour Inspectorate , which has overall responsibility for training representatives .
After the initial training, members must complete a minimum of six hours training annually. This training is to update information and develop the skills and managerial abilities of the OSH representatives. Training providers have to be registered with the General Labour Inspectorate , which is responsible for the overall control of the training for representatives . Training of WCC/WCG members is compulsory and is paid for entirely by the employer.
The Labour Code allows works councils to be established in companies, but the trade unions are objecting to their introduction. Thus, at present, there are no works councils in Bulgaria.
A general meeting of the workers (or delegates if a general meeting is not possible) elects - in most cases - the Bulgarian members of bodies linked to European Works Councils and the European Company. But at these meetings the workers or delegates may decide to transfer this right either to the union or to existing worker representatives. In the case of worker representatives on a European Company board, the legislation is less precise. The Bulgarian legislation does not specify, whether the individuals elected must be workers of the company .
The local union is the key body representing workers in the workplace. In many organisations in both the public and private sector, the union is the only institution representing workers.
Since 2001, elected worker reps have been representing the social and economic interests of workers, both in relation to the employer and to the government. These representatives must be elected by a two-thirds vote at a general meeting of all workers or a meeting of those elected as delegates. This meeting can be called by the employer, by the union in the workplace, or by workers (at least 10%). These worker representatives can be elected, even if there is already a union in the workplace. However, in practice, the possibility of electing worker representatives in this way has not been widely taken up, although it has been used in some larger organisations where unions are not present .
On implementing the EU directive providing a national framework for information and consultation (2002/14/EC) in 2006, worker representatives were introduced, specifically for the purpose of information and consultation. They are elected by a general assembly (or a meeting of delegates) through a simple majority vote. However, here too, the meeting can instead result in these new rights being assigned to the existing union organisations, or to existing worker representatives elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests .
Rights in the Labour Code are given either to the union or to representatives elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests (in practice it will generally be the union). These rights include: being informed and consulted about changes to working hours; being consulted about plans to introduce flexible working; and being given information on permanent positions available to those on fixed term contracts, and full-time positions available to those working part-time, and vice-versa.
Employee representatives, elected for the purposes of information and consultation (or the union/existing representatives if the general meeting has decided that these powers should be given to them) should be informed about business prospects and consulted about employment issues and changes to work organisation and employment contracts. They have a right to request information, to call for meetings with the employer, and to have access to all parts of the workplace or company .
The legislation does not provide any statutory structures for worker representation above the level of the individual company. However, this is not prohibited, and in some groups of companies, particularly multinationals, worker representatives have been elected for the purposes of information and consultation for the whole group. There are also examples of trade union structures at group level, including cases where larger groups have been split up and privatised .
There is a third type of representatives: these are representatives assigned to the health and safety committees (or groups), WCCs / WCGs (safety representatives) .
The Bulgarian system of social dialogue in the private sector does not have a long tradition, as this sector was heavily restricted during the Socialist period.
Figures cited by Eurofound suggest that there are around 500,000 trade unionists in Bulgaria. The latest official census of trade unions, undertaken in 2007, estimated that 20.1% of workers are union members. This figure does not include unionists outside the two main union confederations. The ICTWSS (Institutional Characteristics of Trade Unions, Wage Setting, State Intervention and Social Pacts) database of union membership indicated a union density of 19.8% in 2009. The overall membership has gone down constantly because of a sharp reduction in the size of the manufacturing sector (where unions have traditionally been strong), a smaller role for the state, high unemployment, growth in smaller businesses (where it is harder to convince workers to join a union), and the anti-union behaviour of employers, especially of private enterprises .
For worker representation in Bulgaria especially on workplace level, the local union is in many cases the key body. However, the law also provides for the election of other representatives, e.g. worker representatives for social and economic interests, who could act instead of (or in cooperation with) union representatives. However, in practice, this is rarely applied, but it has been used in some larger organisations where unions are not present .
In small companies, it is unusual to find unions or elected worker representatives .
The main tripartite council, NCTC, which involves unions, employers and the government, has met regularly since 2009 and the government has been able to reach agreement with both unions and employers on a number of key issues . This tripartite cooperation at national level has been expanding in recent years. New mechanisms have been introduced such as: participation by the social partners in an advisory council under the Parliamentarian Commission for Labour and Social Policy; and the establishment of special working groups to draft new labour and social legislation. The social partners have also participated in a range of national councils, built on the tripartite principle, in such areas as health and safety and gender equality .
In addition, the tripartite principle is also applied for supervisory bodies of institutions for employment, social and health insurance, vocational education and training. In 2006, the first three-year National Economic and Social Pact – setting the framework for Bulgaria’s economic and social development – was agreed between the trade unions, employers and government .
Despite the relatively good institutionalisation of social partnership, Eurofound noted that the social partners’ involvement in some of these structures is a mere formality. Furthermore, the opportunities provided are not extensive enough to influence decision making, due to the high level of centralised power and resources established by the government .
There are varying estimates of the proportion of workers covered by collective bargaining. The annual collective bargaining review, undertaken by the KNSB/CITUB union confederation, estimated coverage at between 30% and 35% in 2010, as they usually cover trade union members and all workers in the given sector/company .
Bargaining takes place at both sector and company level (municipal level for municipal workers), but company-level bargaining has become more important. Additionally, the role of sector collective bargaining is also growing. ISTUR, KNSB/CITUB’s research body, notes that the situation varies greatly between sectors, with high levels of coverage (above 90%) in areas like secondary education and other parts of the public sector, around 40% in manufacturing, and below 10% in some private sectors (e.g. banking) .
There is no sector-level bargaining in certain sectors (banking in the private sector or universities in the public sector). In others, such as pharmaceuticals, the sector level agreements have been unchanged for years, as the employers refuse to bargain . The chemicals industry is the only major economic sector without an agreement .
Figures from KNSB/CITUB show that there were 71 sector-level agreements at the end of 2009, of which 16 had been renewed by way of new annexes. There were more than 4,700 agreements in place at company level. Figures from the General Labour Inspectorate show that 25 industry collective agreements came into effect in 2010. There are also more than 100 municipal level agreements, covering employees in individual local authorities. In 2010, 1,706 agreements were completely renewed and 181 were renewed in part .
There is no union structure in most small companies, which means there can be no company agreement. Most small companies are not members of an employers’ association, which means the sector-level agreements do not apply. The result is that those working in Bulgaria’s many small companies are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, not covered by any collective agreement .
Industry level collective agreements typically include details of minimum rates, and some also set higher rates. Reviewing collective bargaining in 2009 and 2010, the KNSB/CITUB union confederation found that negotiators had often been prepared to make concessions on pay to preserve employment. Industry level agreements also typically include bonuses for productivity and quality of work, as well as allowances for overtime, night work and hazardous working conditions. The latter raises concern, as a trade-off between health and money is contradictory to OSH standards . Issues that are also often regulated by industry level agreements include working time, health and safety at work, redundancy procedures, protection against discrimination, work-life balance, supplementary pension and health insurance, and information and consultation . Some collective agreements also include provisions for lifelong learning, including obligations for training dismissed workers . The collective agreement in the healthcare sector contains some provisions for measures against violence in the workplace .
Company level collective agreements are normally more detailed, and cover qualifications, working time and leave, pay rates, health and safety, social insurance, trade union activities in the company, disputes procedures and the mechanism whereby non-union members can join the agreement .
Example: the construction sector
Peycheva and Kirov conducted a study in 2011 looking at the stakeholder policies in the Bulgarian construction sector. They noted that there has been an established social partnership in construction since the beginning of the 1990s, both at sectoral and enterprise levels. However, the social dialogue is implemented only by some employers; on the other hand, the trade unions also only cover a part of the sector. The low trade union density is partly due to the high number of SMEs and the widespread informal (or even illegal) working practices in construction .
The sector is still one of the most problematic in Bulgaria in terms of accidents in the workplace that caused deaths and other disabilities. The total number of labour accidents in the construction sector fluctuated between a low of 312 (in 2003) and a high of 421 (in 2001) .
The social partners are developing and promoting different initiatives, aiming to improve the current situation, including joint inspections of construction sites by representatives of the social partners, representatives from the general labour inspectorate, GLI, the Directorate for National Construction Control, the Police, and the media. In 2006, the GLI came to the conclusion that there is a steady positive trend of working conditions in the sector, but this is happening very slowly .
The main actors in collective bargaining in this sector are the Bulgarian Construction Chamber (BCC), the trade union Construction, Industry and Water Supply Federation (FCIW - Podkrepa), and the Federation of Independent Construction Trade Unions (FICTU), which is part of CITUB. These actors developed and signed the current collective labour agreement (CLA) at sectoral level. The current CLA came into force at the end of 2008 with duration of 2 years. In 2010 the unionists had already deposited the new CLA at the BCC .
The agreement governs matters of labour relations, income, employment, social services, working time, social security relations, social partnership and working conditions for the union members. The arrangements in the CLA are minimal and mandatory for the companies in the sector with organised representatives of the parties, regardless of the form of ownership. It is the basis for the collective agreements at enterprise level. In companies without collective agreements, the sectoral-level CLA is applied. The provisions included in the collective agreements that are less favourable for workers compared to those in the sectoral-level CLA are invalid .
The CLA stipulates that the employer shall provide safe and healthy working conditions for the workers, and shall apply all necessary measures, including: prevention of occupational risks; providing information and training; and providing the necessary organisation and means. The agreement specifies that the parties of the CLA will jointly develop codes of good practice and guidelines for specifying OSH requirements. The employer shall appoint an appropriate official person to be responsible for health and safety problems. Committees on working conditions should be formed in the enterprise, jointly with trade unions. The employer shall analyse the cases of accidents and occupational diseases annually, provide appropriate annual training in safe and healthy working conditions to all workers in accordance with workplace specifics, and also provide periodic preventive medical examinations, depending on the workplace risk assessment .
The above-mentioned provisions of the CLA are compulsory to the companies, members of the trade unions and the BCC. For this reason, representatives of employers and unions complain about its significance for the sector, because it does not cover all the companies, mainly because of the low rate of unionisation. According to different experts, trade unions in the construction sector cover only about 6-15% of the workforce .
The authors of the study identified a gap regarding CLA compliance inspections, because the GLI is only concerned with the Labour Code, and Bulgaria does not yet have Labour Courts .
Working Condition Councils (WCC), Working Conditions Groups (WCG)
Researchers from the LO-CITUB project (conducted 2009 – 2011 as a Norwegian-Bulgarian-Romanian partnership, covering six sectors), noted the lack of research and reliable statistics, both on the number of the WCCs and WCGs and on their activities, efficiency and challenges they face as a body for workers’ representation and participation .
The General Labour Inspectorate (GLI-EA) reported the establishment of WCC/WCG in 48% of the inspected enterprises for 2009 (over 38 000, more than 80% of which are SMEs). According to the GLI inspections, in small companies, the violations of the H&S requirements are frequent and the implementation of the OSH framework is delayed and not complete. The GLI highlighted the slowing pace of setting up WCC/ WCG in retail trade, forestry, hotels and restaurants, real estate, renting activities and business services, where SMEs prevail. The report also stressed that not all WCC/WCG function well - SMEs involvement of worker representatives is often only „on paper" - a mere administrative formality .
Conducted in 2009, the EU-OSHA’s European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) provides comparative data for Bulgaria, Norway and Romania on trade union representation and workers’ representation by health and safety representatives and committees. Bulgaria and Norway are named as the European countries with the highest formal OSH representation. Norway has a high presence of health and safety representatives (92%) – only Italy has more (98%). Bulgaria is the country in which Health and safety committees are most frequently reported (68%). But the researchers noticed the ineffectiveness of some of the established social partnership bodies. This also largely refers to WCCs and WCGs. There are many shortcomings in their formation and functioning, and they only exist on paper in many enterprises .
The Bulgarian OSH law stipulates obligatory training of the representatives. Trade unions and employers’ associations also organise training of their representatives in WCCs/WCGs. However, experts consider this inadequate, given the background of low capacity level of some of the workers representatives, and the complexity of the national and community legislation, newly emerging risks, and rapid technological development .
The 2008 ‘Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) in the Workplace’ project survey findings show that worker representatives in some sectors did not receive any training during the 12 months before the survey. 1 in 2 in the maritime transport, 1 in 4 in the energy sector, and 1 in 7 in the construction sector. In most cases, training is organised by the employers. However, in some sectors, trade unions also organise training for workers representatives in the WCC & WCG, especially trade unions in healthcare, metallurgy and maritime transport .
At company level, the employer negotiates with the unions present in the workplace, whether they are affiliated to a representative trade union or not. Where there are several unions in a company, the legislation encourages them to present a common claim. Where this is not possible, the legislation states that the employer should reach an agreement with the union, or group of unions, whose claim has been approved by a majority of workers at a general meeting, or by a majority of those elected as delegates of their fellow workers, if it is not possible to arrange a general meeting of all workers .
The researchers from the above-mentioned LO-CITUB project found that the institutional framework for social dialogue and workers’ participation (also related to OSH issues) is established at all levels of the industrial relations system; ranging from the workplace to the national level with the formation of the National Working Conditions Council, sector and regional working conditions councils and Working Conditions Committees and Groups in the enterprises . Nevertheless, other observers note that the social partners’ involvement in some of these structures is more a formality. Furthermore, the opportunities provided are not extensive enough to influence decision making, due to the high centralisation of power and resources established by the government .
The challenge identified by the LO-CITUB researchers for both the government and the social partners is effective enforcement. An additional challenge is posed by the ineffectiveness of some social partnership bodies, not excluding many Working Conditions Committees and Working Conditions Groups, where several shortcomings exist. In many enterprises, they exist merely ‘on paper’ .
Another big problem concerns the SMEs. More than 95% of all Bulgarian enterprises employ fewer than 10 workers, and SMEs employ 75% of the workforce . But there is no union structure in most small companies, which means there can be no company agreement, and most small companies are not members of an employers’ association, which means the sector-level agreements do not apply. The result is that those working in Bulgaria’s many small companies are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, not covered by any collective agreement . In addition, it is unusual to find elected worker representatives in SMEs .
Bulgaria’s trade unions became more fragmented in the mid 1990s, with some organisations splitting from Podkrepa. More recently, the trade union spectrum has been dominated by the country’s two representative confederations. The initially hostile relations between CITUB and Podkrepa were eventually overcome in 1992. The process of consolidation of the affiliated federations through mergers is still not forthcoming, although the need becomes more and more obvious, as in some sectors several parallel structures affiliated to CITUB exist – such as education, transport, energy and metalworking .
The organisation of the employers in the emerging industrial relations system has also led to a fragmentation, with more than half a dozen organisations that reflect sectors and activities. According to the European Industrial Relations Observatory of Eurofound, the growing diversity of employer organisations inevitably raises the issue of the legitimacy of representation. The dispersion of employer organisations and their unclear structure means they cannot fulfil their main objective of representing the interests of their members and fully participating in social dialogue. Eurofound regards this as a source of imbalance and instability in the system of social dialogue at national level. This does not facilitate the promotion of more centralised forms of collective bargaining at other levels – such as sector levels .
Bulgarian industrial relations development analysts believe that, in time, the employer organisations will unite in two conglomerates of large and small companies – similar to the practice in other EU Member States .
These tendencies will also hopefully improve worker participation and, in turn, the OSH situation.
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