At times when several governments across Europe impose obstacles on union work and industrial action, this is at least a positive development in one EU Member State.
Bulgarian trade unions have won a 30-year battle as changes to the law now make it a criminal offence to obstruct the right of workers in the country to organise. In a landmark move this August, the Bulgarian Parliament decided that offences committed to violate workers' right to freedom of association will now be punishable by one to five years' imprisonment or a fine of up to 4,000 euros.
The new rules cover all offences (whether through use of force, threats or any other unlawful means) against the right of workers to join trade unions, forcing workers to renounce membership or preventing them from forming a trade union. They will ensure that the right to organise, which has long existed formally in Bulgaria and is in principle protected by ILO conventions ratified by almost all EU Member States, can be effectively enforced.
Crucially, the recent amendments to the Labour Code are linked to EU Directive 2022/2041 on minimum wages and the promotion of collective bargaining.
Isabelle Barthès, Deputy General Secretary of industriAll Europe says:
“We are delighted that our colleagues in Bulgaria have won a major victory in their fight against anti-union action and that years of campaigning have paid off. At times when several governments across Europe impose obstacles on union work and industrial action, this is at least a positive development in one EU Member State.
“It is very satisfying to see that the EU's 2022 minimum wage directive, in itself a historic victory for European workers, is beginning to achieve its goal of strengthening trade unions and workers' collective bargaining rights. But we are under no illusion that trade unions and collective bargaining are still under attack in Europe and we must remain vigilant.”
IndustriAll Europe will pay close attention to the implementation of the minimum wage Directive, which clearly recognises the role of bona fide trade unions and sets a target of 80% collective bargaining coverage. Freedom of association is a universal and fundamental right of workers.