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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bulgaria

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bulgaria, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 7,600,000
Capital: Sofia
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The blanket prohibition of strikes in public administration remains in force despite the decisions of the ILO and the Council of Europe. Trade unionists suffered from harassment, especially those who organised strikes. Reported cases of intimidation especially affect women trade unionists.

Trade union rights in law

The constitution provides for the right of all workers to form or join trade unions, with the exception of the military. Public servants are covered by a separate law, which recognises their freedom of association.

Strike limitations: Strikes are allowed when negotiations to resolve a collective dispute do not reach agreement – when agreement cannot be reached after resorting to mediation and/or voluntary arbitration, and when the employer does not comply with the process.

Public servants do not have the right to strike; they are only allowed to engage in "symbolic strikes", which means displaying signs, arm-bands, badges or protest banners and not withdrawing their labour. "Political strikes" are prohibited. In the railway transport sector, the right to strike is severely limited (a 50 per cent minimum service is required in the event of a strike).

On 16 October 2006 the European Committee of Social Rights concluded that a number of strike restrictions, including the total ban on strike in civil service and high minimum service thresholds, were incompatible with the Revised European Social Charter. This decision supported the collective complaint submitted in 2005 by the two national trade union confederations (CITUB and Podkrepa, both affiliated to ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). While the government removed the strike ban in the energy, communication and healthcare services (which was also condemned by ECSR), no changes were made as regards civil service or railways. According to the government, all 88 000 Bulgarian public servants exercise authority in the name of the state and therefore may be prohibited from striking; the ESCR did not accept this argument.

The law allows strikes to be declared illegal if the decision is upheld by two courts, i.e., after an initial judgement and an appeal to a higher court. Members of the military and the judiciary may not strike.

Dispute resolution: The National Institute for Reconciliation and Arbitration was set up in 2003 for the out-of-court resolution of collective labour disputes. The institute provides mediation and arbitration, filling a major gap in the industrial relations system.

There are no mechanisms for resolving collective labour disputes in the branches and activities where strikes are prohibited.

Protection from discrimination: The Labour Code provides for six months' salary as compensation in cases of anti-union discrimination. The Act on Protection Against Discrimination has been in force since January 2004. Employees can appeal against discrimination before the Commission on Protection Against Discrimination. Trade unions may claim discrimination against their members if the member requests them to. However, the burden of proof rests entirely on the employee.

Bargaining rights not recognised in public sector: Collective bargaining is allowed for private sector workers. The Civil Servants' Act denies the right to collective bargaining for public servants.

Where collective agreements are concluded between representative trade unions and employer organisations at the sectoral level, they can be extended to cover all enterprises in the sector but only at the discretion of the minister.

Labour Courts: In March 2004, the government announced it was examining the possibility of setting up specialised labour courts. The process continued with ILO assistance.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: On 1 January Bulgaria became a member of the European Union; however, the EU made it clear that membership conditions were applied, notably as regards corruption. A tax reform was passed despite trade unions' opposition, establishing the lowest EU flat tax rate of 10%. Bulgaria also remains the poorest country in the EU. Workers in transport, education, healthcare and other public services organised large-scale strikes, some of which yielded significant pay raises.

Frequent harassment: In recent years, the unions have reported frequent cases of discrimination and harassment against trade union activists and members, who have been relocated, downgraded or sacked. This has created fear and insecurity, often making workers reluctant to join a trade union. The legal proceedings for the reinstatement of dismissed workers can take a long time, sometimes years, while the sanctions against employers for unfair dismissal are too weak to be dissuasive. In the private sector, some employers have simply banned trade union membership within their enterprise and have forced newly employed workers to sign declarations that they will not establish or join trade unions. Temporary employment contracts are increasingly being used to prevent workers from demanding their rights, as the Labour Code does not properly protect workers with a temporary contract.

Threats: Trade unionists have been receiving physical threats in a way that makes it difficult to prove, or to make a connection to their trade union activities.

In October 80% of education personnel took part in what trade unions considered "one of the most important strikes in Bulgaria". The head of one of participating unions, SBU (affiliated to CITUB), was anonymously threatened with physical attacks. On 12 October, after yet another talk between the unions and the ministers ended with nothing, Takeva reported that the threats had intensified and also affected her family.

Another woman trade unionist, the president of transport workers' union FTW-Podkrepa, was brutally stabbed with a knife in front of her home on 1 August and spent several days in the hospital. There was no evident reason for the assault, which was not a robbery: the attacker did not take the money offered. Tsvetkova filed a complaint to the police, but there was no real investigation.

Conflicts in Sisecam group-owned factory: On 19 May hundreds of Podkrepa-affiliated glass workers in the "Trakia Glass" factory (town of Turgovishte) went on strike. The factory owner, Turkish Sisecam group, suspended a 221.6 million EUR investment, openly admitting that it was connected to the strike. The chairwoman of the local trade union, Spaska Dulcheva, was denied access to the factory, which resulted in a conflict with the company security. According to Bulgarian legislation, the striking workers had to remain at their posts, and the management banned them from using bathrooms and the only food and drinks shop in the factory.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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