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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bulgaria

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bulgaria, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 21 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 – 100 – 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. A group of individuals tried to charge the leaders of striking trade unions under anti-discrimination provisions. A woman trade union leader was attacked, possibly connected to her trade union activities.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: 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. The Council of Europe criticised Order No. 1 of 15 August 2002, which stipulates that foreign workers can be founders of a trade union subject to prior authorisation.

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

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.

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% minimum service is required in the event of a strike).

On 16 October 2006, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) concluded that a number of strike restrictions, including the total ban on strikes in the civil service and the 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 the ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). While the government removed the strike ban for energy, communications and healthcare workers, no changes were made as regards the civil service or the railways.

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 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 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. In the view of the Council of Europe's ECSR, the protection for trade union representatives against unlawful dismissal based on their status or activities is not adequate.

Labour Courts: In March 2004, the government announced it was examining the possibility of setting up specialised labour courts. The process continued in 2008 with ILO assistance.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: Bulgarian workers have the lowest standard of living in the EU. Corruption and managerial scandals led to tense relations with the EU and sanctions in the course of 2008. In November, the two ITUC affiliates, CITUB and Podkrepa, withdrew from the Tripartite Collaboration Council as a protest against the government's policies and lack of genuine dialogue.

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 adequately protect workers with temporary contracts.

Threats: On 16 July Ekaterina Yordanova, President of the Federation of Transport Trade Unions in Bulgaria and a member of the CITUB executive committee and of Sofia city council, was attacked. The International Transport Workers' Federation called for a thorough investigation, recalling that a similar, seemingly unmotivated attack against a woman trade union leader had taken place in 2007.

Teachers' trade union accused of discrimination: Following the 2007 large-scale strikes in public education, an association of parents lodged a complaint with the Commission for Protection Against Discrimination accusing Yanka Takeva, President of the CITUB-affiliated National Federation of Teachers' Unions (SEB), and Krum Krumov, President of the teachers' union affiliated to Podkrepa, of discrimination between public and private schools. They argued that students in public schools had suffered from the strike whilst those in private schools had not. Trade unions believe that this was an attempt to curtail the teachers' right to strike. In September, the Commission decided that Takeva and Krumov should be tried for discrimination by an administrative court. No court decision had been reached by the end of the year.

Arcotronics BG sues workers: Arcotronics BG factory (city of Kjustendil) tried to sue 286 employees including members of CITUB, who went on strike in March to protest against non-payment of their salaries. According to the management, the strike was illegal. The company later agreed not to impose any disciplinary sanctions on the workers.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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