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SOFIA – Bulgarian textile mills, unions and brands including H&M, Inditex and ASOS met recently to look at ways to improve wages and labour rights in the country’s garment and footwear sectors. The groups met as part of an EU-supported project which is targeting the textile sectors of seven countries in the region, namely Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. All face challenges in terms of improving employer-employee relations and labour rights in their respective textile sectors, with these issues hampering growth and competitiveness.

The national seminar, carried out in cooperation between Industriall Global Union and IndustriAll Europe, was also attended by Bulgaria’s Deputy Minister of Economy, Alexander Manolev, who promised the support of the government for developing social dialogue with employers and unions. “We want this industry to have a future with decent wages,” said the Minister.

Information from Industriall indicates that in Bulgaria, there are around 100,000 workers in the textile, garment, leather and footwear industries. The sector is characterised by low wages and poor image, which has led to labour shortages. Bulgaria has the lowest minimum wage in the European Union, 260 Euros (US$297) per month. 

There are very few collective bargaining agreements, hence Christina Hajagos-Clausen, Industriall Global Union´s textile and garment director, introduced the cooperation between brands and unions which started with the Bangladesh Accord, and continued with global framework agreements (GFAs) and the ACT initiative which is intended to achieve living wages through industry-wide collective bargaining linked to the brands’ purchasing practices. She also carried out a training session for national, regional and local level union representatives on how to use GFAs for organising workers into unions.

Representatives from GFA partner brands H&M, Inditex and ASOS, also members of ACT, explained how they in cooperation with unions solve problems when they occur and promote social dialogue and collective bargaining.

Industriall Global Union assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: “Government and employers’ representatives are committed to engaging with unions to discuss the future of the garment and footwear industries, and improving wages and working conditions. We welcome this important step forward. But there can’t be genuine social dialogue without strong and representative trade unions. Workers should be able to freely join or set up a union without fear of reprisals. We will continue to assist our Bulgarian textile affiliates in their efforts to develop strength and build bargaining power for the benefit of all in those industries.”

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