Open letter to the European Commission
TO EUROPEAN COMMISSION
TO NICOLAS SCHMIT
JOBS AND SOCIAL RIGHTS COMMISSIONER
26 May 2020
INTRODUCTION OF “EMERGENCY” COMPULSORY LABOUR IN BULGARIA
DEAR LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
In Bulgaria, with the argument that the agriculture sector runs the risk that the harvest might remain unpicked, it was legally imposed upon citizens that receive monthly social benefits, to work on private farms. Until now recipients within working age were obliged to perform community service 14 days each month, for 4 hours per day or 56 hours cumulatively. For their labour they received between 49,50 and 75 leva monthly social benefits(25-38 €). If we transform this into hourly rates, this equals between 0,88 and 1,34 leva (0,44-0,67 €) per hour. In comparison, the minimum hourly wage in Bulgaria for 2020 is 3,66 leva (1,83 €).
Even up to this point the so-called social benefits in Bulgaria amounted to labour exploitation for remuneration 3-4 times lower than the minimum wage in the country! But at least it was for activities in the public interest.
On May 14, 2020, with extraordinary law amendments in relation to the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, introduced by individual MPs from the governing majority, the sector of crop cultivation was included within the scope of activities in the public interest until October 31, 2020. It must be emphasised here that the problems with finding the necessary workforce in the sector predate the current situation. In recent years a number of concessions, in terms of reduction of labour and insurance rights, were made in order to help private agricultural business. Even with all the undermining of these rights the problems will not be solved as long as employers continue to pay extremely low wages, without the required contracts and in violation of even the minimal workplace safety standards.
Among the annual country recommendations of the European Commission for Bulgaria is the demand for broadening the scope of social benefits and the increase of its meagre amount. Due to the complicated criteria for access to social benefits, the obligation for community service, the requirement for lack of any other living means whatsoever, including additional rooms in the residence (which could be rented out), each year the number of recipients of social benefits decreases by 10-20%. And this does not lead to improvement in their well-being – the opposite, they are deprived even of these means.
Thus the number of people living in severe material deprivation increases. Inequality, of course, increases too. Bulgaria traditionally occupies the top spots in poverty and inequality. It is proven that the social transfers in the country have almost no impact on these negative tendencies – contrary to all other EU Member States – due to the small amount of these transfers and the multiple obstacles to receiving them.
Now the government has added to all this heavy exploitation of the socially vulnerable for private profit! Despite the publication just a few days ago of the annual recommendations by EC for Bulgaria: “To remove the inadequacies in the minimum income scheme.“1
Dear European Commission representatives,
A few years ago the European Pillar of Social Rights was announced and this was supposed to give impetus to the Union for the return of Social Europe – an image that has been diligently erased by the EU. Before the Social Pillar has received any meaning, in one of the Member States slave labour was introduced. Not metaphorically, not in the form of human trafficking and illegal human rights abuse.
If the European Commission is serious about changing the approach that prioritises private over public interest, now is the time to show zero tolerance towards the abuse by authorities of one of the most defenseless groups of citizens. Community service cannot be performed in the interest of private structures. The exploitation of socially vulnerable people for pocket change runs contrary to the stated goals of the EU for the provision of dignified work and pay. The coronavirus might be deadly, but it cannot serve as a justification for the enactment of inhumane measures. Labour should bring satisfaction and not chains!
Association „Solidary Bulgaria“
Association „Collective for social interventions“
1 COUNCIL RECOMMENDATION on the 2020 National Reform Programme of Bulgaria and delivering a Council opinion on the 2020 Convergence Programme of Bulgaria https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/2020- european-semester-csr-comm-recommendation-bulgaria_en.pdf
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