Population: 7,500,000
Capital: Sofia
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Organising is difficult, and unions often have to fight for real recognition. A union activist was fired after giving an interview about dire working conditions in the company. Public servants are excluded from many trade union activities, and the right to strike is limited.

Trade union rights in law

Despite decisions by the ILO and the Council of Europe, trade union rights are still not fully guaranteed. The Constitution provides for freedom of association, however foreign workers need prior authorisation to form a union. Furthermore, although workers are protected against anti-union discrimination, the burden of proof rests with the employee. There are also no provisions that protect trade unions against acts of interference in their internal affairs.

Collective bargaining is allowed, but not for public servants.

The right to strike is limited by several restrictive provisions. The duration of the strike must be announced in advance, strikes can only be called in connection with collective disputes and after the exhaustion of all dispute resolution procedures, and public servants may only engage in "symbolic strikes", which means displaying signs and protest banners. In sectors where the right to strike is banned, there are no alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Also, the right to strike is circumscribed by requirements on the establishment of a minimum service, which in the railway sector amounts to an inordinate 50%.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: In June, thousands of trade unionists marched against the government's inability to tackle the economic crisis. While the previous government had resisted the social partners' involvement in preparing anti-crisis policies, the new government elected in July strived to restore the dialogue. In October, in light of a growing informal economy and continuing violations of the labour law, the General Labour Inspectorate and two national trade union confederations, Podkrepa and the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions CITUB, signed a cooperation agreement seeking to protect and enforce workers' rights better.

Still no labour courts: In March 2004, the government announced it was examining the possibility of setting up specialised labour courts. The process has continued with ILO assistance.

Frequent harassment: In recent years, 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.

Organising problematic in multinationals: Organising is especially difficult at new sites of multinational companies. Although some workers in the more recently opened establishments of the Metro commerce chain and plants of American Standard have joined trade unions, it is still very difficult to obtain real union recognition. Multinationals also rarely respect applicable sector-level collective agreements.

Mapa Cengiz – workers organise to fight injustice: Mapa Cengiz, a Turkish company involved in the construction of the "Lyulin" motorway, was reported for disregarding the labour law, including provisions on working time and health and safety. In August, workers established a union affiliated to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB). The employer opposed all trade union initiatives: CITUB was not provided with internal health and safety regulations, the company refused to answer union representatives' inquiries and to provide facilities for trade union representatives, collective bargaining meetings were delayed, and management interfered in the organisation of trade union work. One of the trade union secretaries was fired after giving a television interview on the working conditions in the company. However, following several labour inspections and meetings with representatives of the government, the union managed to achieve some improvement in the working conditions.

Update on complaint against teachers' trade union: The case against the two leaders of the teachers' unions who were accused of discrimination by an association of parents is still pending in the administrative court. The 2009 edition of the Survey reported that, following large-scale strikes of education professionals in public schools, the union leaders were accused of discriminating against public schools' students since private schools were not affected by the strikes. Trade unions believe that this trumped-up complaint was an attempt to curtail the teachers' right to strike.

This 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.