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Workplace Representation

There is no universal structure for employee representation in the workplace in Bulgaria. In many cases the local union is the key body, although the law also provides for the election of other representatives. Employees are also able to elect additional representatives for information and consultation but they can also choose to pass these rights to the existing union organisation or existing employee representatives.

he local union remains the key body representing employees in the workplace. In many organisations in both the public and private sector the union will be the only body representing employees.

 

However, employees also have a right to come together in a general meeting, or, if it is not possible to hold a general meeting, because of work patterns or for some other reason, there can be a meeting of delegates elected to represent all employees, which has the same rights as the general meeting.

 

In addition, since 2001, there has also been the possibility of electing employee representatives to represent employees’ social and economic interests, both in relation to the employer and to government. These representatives must be elected by a two-thirds vote at a general meeting of all employees or a meeting of those elected as delegates of their fellow employees. This meeting can be called by the employer, by the union in the workplace, or by at least 10% of all employees. These employee representatives can be elected even if there is already a union in the workplace. In practice, the possibility of electing employee representatives in this way has not been widely taken up, although it has been used in some larger organisations where unions are not present.

 

In July 2006, the situation was further complicated with the introduction of new arrangements allowing for the election of employee representatives specifically for the purpose of information and consultation. This change was made to implement the EU directive providing a national framework for information and consultation (2002/14/EC). However, the general meeting of all employees, or the meeting of elected delegates with the same functions, 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.

 

So far the impact of the change allowing the election of information and consultation representatives seems relatively limited. A report by Plamen Dimitrov,  head of the KNSB union confederation, indicated that by 2017 employee representatives on information and consultation had “been elected in only 20% of the enterprises covered by the law”.[1] However, in 2012, KNSB and one of the employers’ associations started a joint campaign to increase their take-up in non-unionised companies. In the first stage of the campaign 152 companies were visited, and in the second stage 600 employee representatives were elected for training. It is estimated that around 20% of those visited have established a system for information and consultation.[2]

 

In small companies it is unusual to find either unions or elected employee representatives.

 

Figures from Eurofound’s 2013 European Company Survey show that 26% of establishments with at least 10 employees have some form of official employee representation, which may be a union body, a structure to represent employees’ social and economic interests, or an information and consultation body. This is slightly below the EU28 average of 32%. As elsewhere in Europe, larger organisations are much more likely to have such a structure than smaller ones. Among establishments with more than 250 employees, 77% have some form of employee representation.[3]

Numbers and structure

 

The numbers and structure of union representation at the workplace depend on the rules of the union and if there are several unions, each elects its own representatives.

 

There are no specific rules on the numbers or thresholds for employee representatives elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests.  However, the legislation is more precise where employee representatives are elected for the purposes of information and consultation. These representatives should be elected in companies employing 50 or more employees, or in workplaces employing 20 or more.

 

The thresholds, as set out in Article 7a of the Labour Code, are based on the average monthly number of employees employed in the previous three months. They include all workers who were in an employment relationship with the employer, irrespective of the length of the employment relationship or hours worked. (In other words, both temporary and part-time workers are included.) Employees sent by a company providing temporary work are also included.

 

The number elected is fixed in advance by the general meeting or the meeting of employee delegates, but must be in the range of one to three in workplaces with between 20 and 50 employees, three to five for companies with between 50 and 250 employees, and five to nine in companies with more than 250 employees. The candidates can be nominated by both employees and the union. Again, it is important to emphasise that the general meeting or meeting of employee delegates can decide not to have such representatives, but can give their powers instead to the union or to the employee representatives elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests. The unions have been given these powers in some companies where they have a strong position.

 

Tasks and rights

 

The legislation allocates different rights and duties to different types of representative at the workplace. Some are reserved for the union; some are given to the general meeting or meeting of employee delegates; some are given either to the unions or to representatives elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests (in practice it is generally the union, where the union is strong); and some are given to employee representatives elected for the purposes of information and consultation. (As already stated these last rights can be transferred to either the union or existing employee representatives.) Overall, however, it should be noted that there are no areas where the prior agreement of the representatives is necessary before the employer can introduce changes; there is only a requirement to consult.

 

The rights reserved for the union stipulate that the local union organisation must be asked by the employer to participate in drawing up company rules, and it can represent employees in legal disputes with the company. The union is also entitled to report breaches of labour legislation to the appropriate authorities. Crucially, the union negotiates collective agreements with the company and the employer is obliged to provide it with the necessary information to enable it to do so.

 

The main rights given to the general meeting (or meeting of elected employee delegates where a general meeting cannot take place) relate to its role in electing other representatives and approving the union claim where there are several unions and they cannot agree on a common claim (see section on collective bargaining). The general meeting also decides on how any social and cultural funds in the company should be used.

 

The rights in the labour code given either to the union or to representatives elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests (in practice it will generally be the union) are more extensive. They include:

  • being informed and consulted where large-scale redundancies are in prospect (the union or the employee representatives have the right to present their position on the planned redundancy to the relevant state authorities);
  • being informed and consulted when a business transfer is planned;
  • being informed and consulted about changes to working hours;
  • being consulted about short-time working to cope with a lower volume of work;
  • 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 labour code lays down a timescale for the provision of information – it must come at least a month before the planned measure is undertaken – and consultation should last for two weeks. However, the code also allows for the employer and employee representatives to reach their own agreement on the timings. (There are longer timescales for consultation on redundancy.)

 

Election and term of office

 

Election arrangements and the term of office for union representatives are determined by the union. They are usually elected by a meeting of the union members at the workplace and typically their term of office will be from two to five years.

 

Where it is not possible to hold general meetings and there are instead meetings of delegates, the rules for electing these delegates are set by the employees, within the individual parts of the business. In practice, where the union is strong, it will play a key role in determining the rules.

 

Representatives elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests, where they exist, must be elected by a two-thirds majority at the general meeting or the meeting of delegates. They are elected for between one and three years, although there are provisions to remove them if they repeatedly neglect their duties, are convicted of certain offences, or cannot perform their duties for more than six months.

 

Employee representatives for the purposes of information and consultation should be elected by a simple majority at the general meeting or the meeting of delegates. Like those elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests, they are elected for between one and three years, and the same provisions for removal before the end of their period of office also apply. The Labour Code does not set out specific conditions which these employee representatives must meet to be elected, stating only that they are elected “from among” the general meeting.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Article 333 of the Labour Code provides protection against dismissal for both key workplace union representatives and elected employee representatives.

 

Union representatives in leading positions in the local union organisation at workplace level may only be dismissed with the agreement of the central leadership of their union, or by a body approved by the central leadership during their period of office and the subsequent six months. This also applies to individuals who are employees of the company but hold elected union positions at local, industrial or national level.

 

Employee representatives, both those elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests and those elected for the purposes of information and consultation, may only be dismissed with the agreement of the labour inspectorate.

 

Time off and other resources

 

The chair of the union at the workplace has a right to time off as specified in a collective agreement, with a minimum of 25 hours a year. This right also applies to employees in union leadership positions at industrial, regional and national level. The union has rights to use facilities needed for the performance of its functions.

 

Employee representatives, both those elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests and those elected for the purposes of information and consultation, have a right to time off if this is necessary to enable them to fulfil their functions – either through reduced working hours or additional leave.

 

Training rights

 

Employee representatives at workplace level also have a right to participate in training and to be given the time off necessary for this. However, the arrangements must be agreed with the employer, either in a collective agreement or in some other agreement.

 

Representation at group level

 

The legislation does not provide any statutory structures for employee representation above the level of the individual company. However, this is not prohibited and in some groups of companies, particularly in multinational companies, employee representatives for the purposes of information and consultation for the whole group have been elected. There are also examples of trade union structures at group level, including cases where larger groups have been split up and privatised.

[1] Annual Review 2017 of Labour Relations and Social Dialogue Bulgaria, by Plamen Dimitrov, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, May 2018, http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/14467.pdf (Accessed 15.11.2018)

[2] Innovative trade union practices in Bulgaria: a remedy for falling membership and declining institutional power? by Lyuben Tomev, in Innovative union practices in Central-Eastern Europe

[3] Eurofound (2015), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being, Figures for Table 44

L. Fulton (2020) National Industrial Relations, an update. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.