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Bulgaria Looks Toward Quality Jobs to Combat Poverty

Despite being the poorest country in the EU with the lowest wages, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) found Bulgaria is positioned well in the European labour market and is among the leaders regarding job creation, ranking 7th among 27 member states.

The Eurofound research highlights that a good job is much more than a good salary.

“Salary is important, but it’s not everything”, Ivailo Kalfin, executive director of Eurofound and former Bulgarian social minister, said. He was speaking on Wednesday (28 June) at the conference “Quality jobs: How to make them happen”, organised by EURACTIV Bulgaria in Sofia with the support of Eurofound.

According to Eurofound data for 2023, the minimum wage in Bulgaria (€399) is the lowest in the EU. The margin between Bulgaria and the second-to-last country – Hungary (€579), is substantial. According to Bulgarian statistics, the country’s average salary is €1,000.

But Bulgaria performs above average in several areas, including less exposure to dangerous chemicals and substances in the workplace, less strenuous work, and the level of support from colleagues. On the negative side, Bulgaria performs worse than average due to low wages, a high noise pollution environment and far fewer opportunities for employer-paid training.

Additionally, “far fewer people can work remotely in Bulgaria, which increases stress, especially for women”, Kalfin said, arguing that teleworking adds to the attractiveness of jobs.

Elements of a quality workplace and an attractive job, other than salary, include employer-paid training, career development opportunities, less stress, and workplace autonomy.

“Calmness, support and dialogue between the employer and the employee…All these elements show that the job is a quality job. Quality is measurable and indicates the direction of the labour market,” Kalfin said.

Negative side effects

Anton Kassel, chief of cabinet to European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit, said that social protection models in some EU countries sometimes have adverse side effects.

These models can be too generous and protective, making people not motivated to seek out jobs. Kassel added this had caused passivity in these countries but also a brain drain from elsewhere in the EU where working conditions are not as good.

He argued that the European Commission has a very good strategy for levelling conditions in different EU countries and called on the European Parliament to replicate successful sides of the US labour market, including the Inflation Reduction Act.

According to him, the EU needs a comprehensive strategic approach to create a quality working environment, including a change in its attitude towards migration.

Investment in skills

Bulgaria has €500 million from the Recovery Plan and the EU budget for investments to develop the skills and qualifications of its citizens, announced Social Affairs Minister Ivanka Shalapatova, a keynote speaker at the conference.

The goal the ministry has set itself is to train 500,000 people to acquire at least intermediate-level digital skills by 2026. “We have the resource, but we must use it wisely to achieve results,” she said.

She reminded that in the coming years, nearly 90% of jobs will require digital literacy, and people who do not have these skills will drop out of the labour market.

The Deputy President of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce, Maria Mincheva, said that the people with the lowest education levels predictably perform worst in the labour market. She added that the labour market had changed significantly since the pandemic because job seekers increasingly request flexible working hours.

“The generation that works from 9 am to 6 pm in the office is disappearing,” Mincheva said. According to her, the biggest problem in the labour market in Bulgaria remains the lack of manpower.

Salary, salary, salary

“Salaries are most important. No matter how often it is repeated that they are not so important, they will not become less important,” said the president of the largest trade union organisation in the country, CITUB Plamen Dimitrov.

Dimitrov reminded that Bulgaria is in a situation of a demographic catastrophe, with nearly 2 million Bulgarians working and living abroad.

Dimitrov explained that the state must ensure that Western investors carry out technological transfers when entering the Bulgarian market. “Technology transfer is key to creating quality jobs,” Dimitrov said. According to him, in this regard, Bulgaria has not taken advantage of its membership in the EU and NATO.

The new ‘green’ jobs

Maria Trifonova of the Center for the Study of Democracy drew a line between energy transition and quality jobs.

“The transition to sustainable, low-emission economic systems is associated with many new features, including the implementation of new technologies for energy production and storage,” said Trifonova, a lecturer in the Department of Economics and Industry Management at Sofia University.

According to her, the energy transition’s overall effect on the labour market is positive due to increased employment in sectors with higher added value and highly skilled and better-paid labour. She reminded that while in 2020, 1.2 million people in the EU were employed in the renewable energy sector, the number is set to increase tenfold in the next decade.

She drew attention to another problem – currently, women comprise only one-third of the workforce in the renewable energy sector.

“I would not say that women are widely represented in decision-making bodies for the green economy and the transformation of the energy sector in the country. Many of the discussions about the green economy and energy in the EU go by without a single woman participating in them,” Trifonova deplored.

Source: Euractiv