“Being an EU member is a big challenge for Bulgaria”


In an interview with Equal Times, Plamen Dimitrov, President of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB), explains the challenges that his country faces from being the poorest and one of the newest EU member-states.


Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007. Seven years later, do you feel this integration has been positive for Bulgaria?

Being an EU member is a big challenge, both for industries but also for the social structures and the social system of the country.

We have witnessed damage to the labour market, as qualified and skilled workers tend to leave the country to work elsewhere in Europe.

At the same time, we have enjoyed EU money and funds for regional development and for socio-economic cohesion, which cannot be ignored.


Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU in terms of GDP per capita, and wages are very low – on average about €415 a month. Do you fear that western EU multinationals will come to Bulgaria to take advantage of cheap labour?

They were already doing it since the fall of the Berlin Wall!

But of course, this is a growing concern. If we look at supply-chains in Bulgaria, we can see that manufacturing companies are indeed benefiting from cheap labour. This is a sector where we are still struggling to force subcontractors to respect fundamental workers rights.

But in other sectors, we have pushed multinationals to respect collective agreements.



They are afraid of bad publicity. When they were exposed in the media, they softened their attitudes and were keener to cooperate, and even sign collective agreements.


What are the main challenges for trade unions in Bulgaria?

Wages, of course. Wages and unemployment. From an economic point of view, one could argue that they are contradictory and that raising wages will damage employment.

In our case, it is not true. There is space for raising wages because they are lagging behind productivity.


Can you explain?

I will give you three figures to illustrate what I mean: Bulgarians earn 25 per cent, or one fourth, of the EU average worker in terms of purchasing power parity. Yet, our productivity is only half of the EU average and our food prices are two-thirds of the average food prices in Europe

Therefore, there is space to increase wages, without damaging the economy and the jobs.