Around 15% to 17% of Bulgaria’s employees are union members. There are two main union confederations. The larger of the two is KNSB (known in English as CITUB), which emerged from the reformed official trade union movement of the communist period, while Podkrepa came out of the opposition movement. Despite this, they now work together reasonably well.
Figures from the unions themselves suggest there are around 350,000 to 400,000 trade unionists in Bulgaria. The latest official census of trade unions, undertaken in 2016, produces a union density figure of 15.4%, although this does not include trade unionists outside the two main union confederations, and assumes that all trade unionist are employees. Figures from the union research institute ISTUR put union density at 15.1% in 2018.
There are two main union confederations in Bulgaria. These are KNSB (often known by its initials in English as CITUB) and K T Podkrepa. KNSB emerged with a reformed structure from the official trade union confederation of the communist period. Its founding congress was in 1990, following on from a special congress of its predecessor. Podkrepa was established in February 1989, as part of the opposition movement to the then communist government. It was concerned to protect civil rights, particularly those of ethnic Turks. In the years that followed the fall of the communist government in November 1989 the two confederations played a major role promoting reforms in the Bulgarian economy and society as a whole.
KNSB has always been larger than Podkrepa and figures compiled for the trade union census in 2016 show 271,312 members for KNSB and 79,567 for Podkrepa.
There are also a number of unions outside the two main confederations. Some cover a number of specific occupations, including journalists, firefighters and some jobs in air and sea transport; some are in industries, such as electricity generation and banking. There are also police unions that by law are not allowed to affiliate to the main union confederations. Finally, the two main confederations have also faced rivalry from other trade union confederations, such as Promyana (“Change” in Bulgarian), which came into existence in 1996 with the express purpose of overthrowing the then socialist government. However, these bodies have declined in importance, if not effectively disappeared.
The issue of membership is important, as it is one of the factors in deciding whether or not a union confederation is ‘representative’. Representative confederations have seats on a range of tripartite bodies – made up of the unions, employers and the government – which have both an advisory role and administer parts of the social security system. These tripartite bodies exist at local as well as national level. Representative unions also have specific rights in the area of collective bargaining (see section on collective bargaining).
In order to be representative at national level, the Bulgarian labour code, which was amended in this area in 2012, states that a union organisation must fulfil a number of conditions. As well as having the appropriate legal status – that of a non-profit association – and being registered with the court, a representative union must have at least 75,000 members (previously 50,000). It must organise in at least a quarter of the sectors of the Bulgarian economy (previously a half), with either 5% of the employees in membership in each of these sectors or 50 local trade union organisations, each with at least five members, in each of the sectors. It must also have legal bodies in at least a quarter of Bulgaria’s municipalities (previously a half) and a national executive.
At present only KNSB and Podkrepa have the status of representative unions at national level, although other confederations have also been granted this status in the past. Disputes over this issue led to a change in the procedure for establishing representative status. There is now a clear timetable for submitting requests for representative status, including the need to re-establish status every four years, and a clear requirement to ensure the information provided in support of the request is accurate. The most recent decision, confirming that KNSB and Podkrepa were the only two representative unions at national level, was taken in August 2016.
Despite their different histories, relations between KNSB and Podkrepa are reasonably good, and on many issues the two confederations take a common position. For example, in June 2018, together with the European Trade Union Confederation, they submitted a common complaint to the Council of Europe concerning the collective bargaining rights of civil servants. However, there are still differences – a rally for higher wages in October 2017 organised by KNSB was not backed by Podkrepa, and May Day marches and events are typically held separately.
Both KNSB and Podkrepa cooperated with the Bulgarian socialist party in the past, although relations with the socialist-led government elected in 2005 deteriorated towards the end of its period in office in 2009. More recently, both confederations have been critical of Bulgarian politicians from all parties.
KNSB and Podkrepa have a similar structure of affiliated industry federations/unions. There are 38 in the case of KNSB, of which the largest is the teachers’ union, the SBU, with some 80,000 members. KNSB also has six associated organisations representing groups, such as artists, disabled workers and hairdressers. Podkrepa has 25 affiliated industry federations.
Overall union membership has fallen, not just from the period of the communist government, when it was close to 100%, but since the late 1990s. At the time of the 1998 union census, there were 777,000 recorded union members and union density was around 39%. However, by 2003 membership had fallen to 499,000 and union density to around 27%.The figures for 2012 show membership at 364,000 and density at 17.2%, while by 2016 membership had fallen to 351,000 and density to 15.4%.
The later figures do not include the membership of unions outside the two main confederations, or bodies which are associated members of the KNSB. However, even taking these into account, the overall downward trend is clear. The reasons for this fall include a sharp reduction in the size of the manufacturing sector, where unions have traditionally been strong, a smaller role for the state, and a growth in smaller businesses, where unions find it much harder to organise. Between 2012 and 2016 union membership (in the two largest confederations) fell by 3.6% and overall employment grew by 2.6%.
 The total number of trade unionists in the two main confederations declared in the census was 350,879 in 2016 and total employment in Bulgaria in the same year was 2,277,345 (National Statistical Institute Bulgaria)
 See Annual Review 2018 of Labour Relations and Social Dialogue Bulgaria, by Plamen Dimitrov, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2019, http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/15354.pdf (Accessed 17.07.2019)
 ПРАВИТЕЛСТВОТО ПРИЗНА ПЕТ РАБОТОДАТЕЛСКИ И ДВЕ СИНДИКАЛНИ ОРГАНИЗАЦИИ ЗА НАЦИОНАЛНО ПРЕДСТАВИТЕЛНИ,http://old.government.bg/cgi-bin/e-cms/vis/vis.pl?s=001&p=0228&n=8478&g=
 Trade unions lodge collective complaint with Council of Europe against Bulgaria, Radio Bulgaria, 11.06.18 http://bnr.bg/en/post/100982088/trade-unions-lodge-collective-complaint-with-council-of-europe-against-bulgaria (Accessed 15.11.18)
 The figures for 2012 and 2016 are taken from the official census and figures for total employment from the National Statistical Institute Bulgaria; for the earlier figures see The Bulgarian Labour Market in 2003, published by the KNSB’s research body, the Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR), Posted to the Global Policy Network on 27 April 2004
Around 30% of employees are covered by collective bargaining in Bulgaria. Bargaining takes place at both industry and company level (municipal level for municipal employees) but company-level bargaining is the most important.
Legislation provides for collective bargaining at three levels: industry level, company level and municipal level – where the terms and conditions of municipal employees are negotiated. Industry and company-level bargaining are not mutually exclusive, and in many industries they co-exist. However, there are also some industries, like financial and insurance services and telecommunications, where there are no industry level collective agreements.
In practice, the key focus for bargaining is at company level. This is because many companies, particularly larger ones, are reluctant to be party to industry level agreements, despite union efforts to extend their coverage. In addition, the key terms of some industry level agreements do no more than restate existing legislation, especially in industries facing economic difficulties.
Industry-level agreements have the potential to become more important, in terms of numbers covered, as there is provision in Article 51b of the Labour Code for the government to extend an industry-level agreement to all the employers, and therefore all the employees, in that industry. However, this depends on the agreement being signed by all the representative unions and employers, and the signatories making a request for it to be extended. In practice, therefore, extensions have hardly ever been used other than in a brief period between 2010 and 2013, when four industries (water supply and sewerage, brewing, the production of paper and cardboard and the exploration, mining and processing of minerals) had their agreements extended. By 2018, as the reports from the General Labour Inspectorate show, most of these had lapsed, with only two, those for the exploration, mining and processing of minerals and brewing, still in force.
In general, employers, particularly those not members of employers’ associations, are hostile to the extension of agreements, and overall the two union confederations report that there is a clear push by employers towards the decentralisation of collective bargaining.
Other than this extension mechanism, only those employees who are members of the union that has signed the agreement are covered by it. Other employees can ask to be covered by it, but it is up to the unions and employers who signed the agreement to agree the terms.
Although a strict reading of the labour code suggests that there is an obligation on employers to negotiate with unions, in practice it does not always happen. In any case, in most small companies there is no union structure, which means there can be no company agreement. 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.
Figures from the 2014 Structure of Earnings Survey, produced by the Bulgarian National Statistical Institute, show that overall 29.7% of employees are covered by collective bargaining.  This is made up of 19.4% of employees covered by company agreements, 7.1% by industry agreements and 3.3% by municipal level agreements.
The allocation of employees between the categories is defined according to which collective provisions cover more than 50% of employees in the local unit or company.
However, bargaining coverage varies greatly between industries, with high levels of coverage (above 90%) in areas like secondary education and other parts of the public sector, coverage of around 40% in manufacturing, and much lower coverage (below 10%) in some private service sectors like banking.
Other figures on collective bargaining come from the official National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration, which maintains a database of collective agreements and publishes an annual report on collective agreements and collective disputes. The report for 2017 shows that, at the end of the year, there were 1,981 collective agreements in force (that is, excluding those which had expired). Of these 1,812 were at company level, 150 were for municipalities and just 19 were industry-level agreements.
The 19 industry level agreements in force covered forestry, mining and quarrying, metalworking, pulp and papermaking, energy, water and sewerage, parts of construction, motor repair, restaurants and tourism, education, health and a range of cultural activities, including both music and football.
The 150 municipal agreements overwhelmingly related to education and health, each accounting for around 40% of the agreements, with the remainder more or less evenly split between culture, social services and other activities.
There is more detail on the 1,981 company-level agreements, including information on the number of employees covered, although the National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration, which collects the figures, recognises that they are incomplete. The figures, which are based on an average for the years 2011 to 2017, show significant differences between the number of agreements in each industry and the number of employees covered. For example, education accounts for 50% of all agreements, but only 18% of the employees covered, while for industry the situation is reversed, accounting for just 12% of agreements but 38% of employees covered. One very noticeable element of company-level collective agreements is that they primarily cover public sector bodies – 88% of all these agreements and 65% of all employees covered by these agreements are in the public sector.
However, despite this dominance of the public sector in company-level bargaining, it is important to note that employees with special status in the public sector – “civil servants” – do not have full collective bargaining rights. They can organise in unions, but can only make suggestions or proposals on their terms and conditions, while only token industrial action is permitted.
There is no collective bargaining at national level in Bulgaria, although there is a tripartite council, the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation (NSTS), which is made up of representatives of the unions, employers and the government, and meets regularly. The union members come from the two nationally representative union confederations (KNSB and Podkrepa) and employers come from the five nationally representative employers’ associations. The role of the Council is to review proposed government legislation on employment and related issues, to discuss issues related to employment and to coordinate national programmes related to social dialogue. There are also tripartite social dialogue bodies within industries and at district and municipal level.
Who negotiates and when?
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. 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 employees at a general meeting, or by a majority of those elected as delegates of their fellow employees, if it is not possible to arrange a general meeting of all employees. It is also possible for an employer to reach agreement with a general meeting of all employees or their delegated representatives.
In practice, figures from the National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration show that the vast majority of company-level agreements are signed by unions. Only four out of 1,812 agreements in 2017 were signed by non-union bodies, and in most cases they were signed by either one union (70%) or two unions (24%), although, in terms of employees, there was little difference between the number covered by a single union signatory (38%) and the number covered by two union signatories (39%).
At municipal level, only bodies belonging to representative unions, which should present a common position, are entitled to bargain. Similarly, at industry level, it is only representative unions which can bargain.
In the labour code, agreements are assumed to last for one year, although they can last for up to two years. In practice, 75% of agreements last for two years and 17% for one, with the remaining 8% lasting other periods.
The subject of the negotiations
Industry level collective agreements typically include details of minimum rates, and some also set higher rates. Industry level agreements also typically include bonuses for productivity and quality of work as well as supplements for overtime, night work and hazardous working conditions. Issues such as working time, health and safety at work, redundancy procedures, protection against discrimination, work-life balance and information and consultation are also often regulated by industry level agreements.
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.
Bulgaria has a minimum wage which is set by the government after consultation with employers and unions in the national tripartite council, the NSTS.
 Специален регистър на колективните трудови договори (Special Register of Collective Agreements), ИЗПЪЛНИТЕЛНА АГЕНЦИЯ „ГЛАВНА ИНСПЕКЦИЯ ПО ТРУДА“ http://www.gli.government.bg/page.php?c=43&d=117 (Access 15.11.18)
 Structure of Earnings 2014, National Statistical Institute Bulgaria, 2017, Table 2.4 http://www.nsi.bg/sites/default/files/files/publications/struktura_rab_Zaplati_14.pdf
 ГОДИШЕН ДОКЛАД ЗА КОЛЕКТИВНИ ТРУДОВИ ДОГОВОРИ И КОЛЕКТИВНИ ТРУДОВИ СПОРОВЕ В РЕПУБЛИКА БЪЛГАРИЯ 2018, June 2018, Table 3, http://nipa.bg/sites/default/files/2018%20CLA%20CLD%20ANNUAL%20REPORT.pdf (Accessed 21.11.2018)
 Ibid Charts 75a and 75b
 Ibid Chart 61a
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”. 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.
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.
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.
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.
 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)
 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
 Eurofound (2015), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being, Figures for Table 44
There is no employee participation at board level in Bulgaria, but under certain circumstances employee representatives can have a consultative role in shareholders’ meetings.
Bulgarian companies can be set up with either a single-tier board or a two-tier board structure (with both a management and a supervisory board). Employees have no rights to board-level representation but, in public limited companies (AD) with 50 employees or more, specially elected employee representatives can participate in shareholders’ meetings on a consultative basis. In limited companies (OOD), these representatives can participate in meetings of the shareholders regardless of the number employed – but only on social issues.
The employee representatives exercising these functions are elected by the general meeting of all employees, or by the meeting of elected employee delegates, where a general meeting is not possible.
In most cases Bulgarian members of bodies linked to European Works Councils and the European Company are elected by a general meeting of the employees, or a meeting of employee delegates, where a general meeting is not possible. But the general meeting or meeting of delegates can choose to transfer the choice either to the union or to existing employee representatives. In the case of employee representatives on a European Company board, the legislation is less precise.
European Works Councils
Bulgarian members of the special negotiating body (SNB) for the EWC are elected in the first instance by a general meeting of all employees or by a meeting of employee delegates, where a general meeting is not possible. However, the general meeting/meeting of delegates can decide to transfer the right to choose members of the SNB either to representatives chosen by the trade union or to representatives previously elected to represent employees’ social and economic interests (see section on workplace representation). The Bulgarian legislation does not specify whether the individuals elected must be employees of the company.
The procedure is the same for a European Works Council set up under the fallback provisions of the annex to the directive.
Bulgarian members of the special negotiating body (SNB) for a European Company are elected in the first instance by a general meeting of all employees or by a meeting of employee delegates, where a general meeting is not possible. However, the general meeting/meeting of delegates can decide to transfer the rights to choose members of the SNB either to representatives chosen by the trade union or to representatives previously elected by the general meeting to represent employees’ social and economic interests (see section on workplace representation). The Bulgarian legislation does not specify, whether the individuals elected must be employees of the company.
The procedure is the same for an SE representative body set up under the fallback provisions of the annex to the directive.
The Bulgarian legislation does not set out in detail how Bulgarian employee representatives at board level are to be chosen, where they are appointed under the fallback procedure in the annex to the directive. The choice of board level representatives and the method of appointing them in this case is left to the SE representative body.
Employee representation on health and safety issues is primarily provided through the employees elected as members of the joint employee/management health and safety bodies, known as working conditions committees and groups, which should be set up in Bulgarian companies. As well as participating in these bodies, employee representatives have specific rights and can appeal to the national inspectorate in cases where the employer is not ensuring safe working conditions.
Basic approach at workplace level
The employer is responsible for healthy and safe working conditions, but joint bodies, made up of management and employee representatives meet once every three months to discuss health and safety issues. In addition, employers should provide an occupational health service whose prime responsibility is the prevention of accidents at work and occupational diseases.
Employee health and safety bodies
The interests of employees in the area of health and safety are represented through elected employee representatives in the joint working conditions committees, which should be set up in companies or establishments with more than 50 employees. In smaller companies with between five and 50 employees, a working conditions group should be set up.
In addition, employers consult with employees or their representatives or unions to enable them to discuss a range of health and safety issues. Trade unions should also be invited to take part in investigations into accidents at work and occupational diseases.
Numbers and structure
The 1997 law on health and safety at work requires that the working conditions committee should be set up in companies with more than 50 employees. They should consists of equal numbers of employer and employee representatives, although the law does not lay down detailed rules on the committee’s size, simply stating that it should have between four and 10 members.
Where the company has health and safety experts or an occupational physician (works doctor), they may also be members of the working conditions committee. The employer chairs the committee and the vice-chair is a representative of the employees. In large and complex companies, it is possible to set up working conditions committees both at the level of the whole company and for particular parts of it.
The working conditions groups, which should be set up in companies between five and 50 employees, have only two members. They are the employer or the department manager and an elected employee representative. Separate working conditions groups can also be set up for different parts of an organisation, if it is has a complex structure or is geographically dispersed.
Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in 2014 found that there are working conditions committees and groups in 45% of workplaces in Bulgaria. This is above the EU-28 average of 21% for similar committees. (The figures are for workplaces with five or more employees.)
A separate study published by EU-OSHA in 2016 found that although national-level discussions on health and safety worked well, at industry (branch) and company level “there are some shortcomings”. The study went on to say that, “not all branch and regional working conditions councils and working conditions committees/groups function adequately and some of them are not functioning at all.”
Tasks and rights
The tasks of both working conditions committees and groups are the same. They include:
- discussing every three months all issues related to employees’ health and safety and taking measures to improve the position;
- examining the results of occupational risk assessments, studies on the health of employees, reports from specialist occupational health services and other health and safety topics;
- discussing planned changes in technology, work organisation and job content and proposing solutions that protect the health and safety of employees;
- monitoring the extent to which health and safety measures are implemented;
- monitoring accidents at work and levels of occupational disease in the company or enterprise; and
- participating in the development of health and safety information and training programmes.
Working conditions committees and groups should work closely with the employer’s occupational health services.
In addition, employee representatives on working conditions committees and groups have a number of specific rights. They have access to information on working conditions, reports on accidents at work and occupational sickness, as well as the results of any investigations undertaken by the national inspectorate and any obligations they may have imposed on the employer. They should also be invited – along with the unions – to take part in the investigation of accidents at work and occupational diseases. Employee members of the committees and groups can require the employer to take appropriate measures to eliminate and mitigate hazards and make proposals to the employer as to how this might be done. They can also appeal to the national inspectorate if they consider that the measures taken by the employer are insufficient to ensure health and safety. Finally they have a right to participate in visits made by the national inspectorate.
More generally employers are obliged to consult with employees, their representatives or unions to allow them to participate in:
- the “discussion and adoption” of all measures related to employees’ health and safety;
- the designation of employees engaged in measures relating to health and safety, first aid, fire fighting and the evacuation of employees; and
- the planning and organisation of health and safety training for employees.
Frequency of meetings
Both working conditions committees and working conditions groups should meet once every three months.
Election and term of office
Employee representatives for health and safety in both working conditions committees and working conditions groups are elected at a general meeting of all employees, which takes place at the request of the employer, the union or 10% of all employees. At least half of the employees must be present for its decisions to be valid. This general meeting also elects the vice-chair of the working conditions committee, where there is one.
The term of office for these employee representatives, including the vice-chair, is four years.
Resources, time off and training
The employer should provide employee representatives in working conditions committees and groups with the resources and conditions (including sufficient time off during working hours) they need to carry out their duties.
Employers are also required to provide and pay for the training of employee representatives on working conditions committees and groups. This training must take place during working hours and the representatives must be paid. There is a closely specified national curriculum for this training, which in the first year must last for at least 30 hours and in subsequent years at least six hours annually.
Protection against dismissal
Employee representatives in working conditions committees and groups should not be disadvantaged as a result of their health and safety work. In addition, under the Bulgarian labour code, an employer must obtain permission from the labour inspectorate in advance before an employee representative on the working conditions committee or the working conditions group can be dismissed.
Other elements of workplace health and safety
Employers are required to provide an occupational health service, although, depending on the number employed, the nature of the work being performed and the health and safety risks, employers themselves can take this responsibility. It is also possible to cooperate with other companies to provide a health and safety service or to use external health and safety service providers. The role of the occupation health service is to consult with and support the employer and the working conditions committee and/or group, with the aim of preventing accidents and occupational diseases and protecting employees.
Those providing this service, either internally or externally must have the appropriate education and training and where the service is being provided internally by an employee who has other duties, the time required for the occupational health tasks must be defined at the outset.
The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. The body responsible for monitoring compliance with health and safety laws and regulations is the General Labour Inspectorate-Executive Agency.
Trade unions and employers are able to influence health and safety policy through their participation in the National Working Conditions Council, which also includes government representatives.
Law on health and safety at work 1997
Labour Code (1986) as amended
ЗАКОН ЗА ЗДРАВОСЛОВНИ И БЕЗОПАСНИ УСЛОВИЯ НА ТРУД 1997
Кодекс на труда
 Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2016
 Safer and healthier work at any age – Country Inventory: Bulgaria, EU-OSAHA, 2016
 For more information on the national context see OSH system at national level – Bulgaria by Lothar Lißner, Reka Zayzon, Carsten Brück and Raluca Stepa https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Bulgaria
Employee financial participation in Bulgaria is largely a result of the privatization process started in 1990 and its development thereafter. The most important forms of employee financial participation emerged in the course of the mass privatization and the so-called ‘MEBO privatization’ processes. Profit-sharing schemes, as one form of financial participation, are quite rare in practice. Cooperatives, traditionally very strong in Bulgaria, currently represent just 1% of all registered companies.
The most important form of employee financial participation in Bulgaria is employee ownership. This concept has been present in the Bulgarian economy since the beginning of the 1980s, when a new concept of ownership and management of socialist property slowly developed.
In 1989, the privatization of state-owned enterprises started and employee share ownership was expanded in Bulgaria.1 var obj = document.getElementById('note_hidden'); obj.value = obj.value + '1
1. Mygind, N. (2012): Trends in employee ownership in Eastern Europe, in: The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23:8, 1611–1642.
According to most studies financial participation models are not widespread in Bulgaria. According to the data of the European Working Conditions Survey (2010), for example, both share ownership and profit sharing are less frequent in Bulgaria than in other European countries.
According to the results of the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS 2010), based on questionnaires of employees, the diffusion of employee share ownership was only 0.6 per cent.1 var obj = document.getElementById('note_hidden'); obj.value = obj.value + '1
1. Eurofound (2012), Fifth European Working Conditions Survey, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
At the moment, there are no legal limitations to workers’ financial participation in Bulgarian companies. Neither are there any laws or tax benefits for financial participation schemes.
The practice of financial participation has largely emerged from privatisation. There are two distinct “legislation periods” in the Bulgarian privatization process. The first period stretches from 1992 to 2002 and the second started in 2002, when the previous privatization legislation was abolished.
The early privatization process
The first Law on Privatization, called the “Law on Transformation and Privatization of State and Municipal Enterprises”, was adopted on 7th May 1992. It was supposed to facilitate employees participation and to reduce the social gap between capital owners and the workforce which had appeared following the liberalisation of the Bulgarian economy.1 var obj = document.getElementById('note_hidden'); obj.value = obj.value + '1
1. Lowitzsch, J., Hashi, I. and Woodward, R. (2009): The PEPPER IV Report: Benchmarking of Employee Participation in Profits and Enterprise Results in the Member and Candidate Countries of the European Union. Country Profile ‘Bulgaria’.
No great importance is attached to employee financial participation in current trade union strategies and programmes. Nevertheless, Bulgarian unions do seem to be generally open-minded with regard to this subject.1 var obj = document.getElementById('note_hidden'); obj.value = obj.value + '1
1. Lowitzsch, J. et al. (2012): Employee Financial Participation in Companies` Proceeds. Study requested by the European Parliament`s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.
- Lowitzsch, J., Hashi, I. & Woodward, R. (2009): The PEPPER IV Report: Benchmarking of Employee Participation in Profits and Enterprise Results in the Member and Candidate Countries of the European Union. Country Profile “Bulgaria”.
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2012): Fifth European Working Conditions Survey, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2010): European Company Survey 2009. Overview. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2007): Financial participation of employees in the European Union: Much ado about nothing? Background Paper.
- Mygind, N. (2012): Trends in employee ownership in Eastern Europe, in: The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23:8, 1611-1642.
- Kabatliyska, V. und Dimitrova, Z. (2012): Employee Share Plans: Bulgaria. A Q&A guide to employee share plans law in Bulgaria.
- Republiková únia zamestnávatel (größte slowakischer Arbeitgeberverband) (2010): Financial Participation Survey, Results and Conclusions.
- Poutsma, E.; Lighard, P. (2011): Compensation and Benefits, in: Cranet Survey on Comparative Human Resource Management – International Executive Report.
- CITUB-Соnfederation of the Indpendent Trade Unions in Bulgaria(En)
- Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (En)
- BIA - Bulgarian Industrial Association (En)
- CEIBG-Confederation of the Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria (En)
- BCCI-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (En)
- BICA-Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (En)
- Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (En)
- National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration (En)
- General Labour Inspectorate(En)
- National Statistical Institute(En)
- Ministry of Economy and Energy(En)
- InvestBulgaria Agency (En)
- Bulgarian Small- and Medium-sized Promotion Agency (En)
- Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum (En)
- Bulgarian Human Resources Management and Development Association (En)