How to fire us easier – advice from the Bulgarian Labour Inspection Agency

There is probably only one institution in Bulgaria which should deal with the protection of workers from employer abuse. But what happens when the author of the site Uvolni.me (Fire.me) turns out to be the chief juridical adviser of this very same institution, and speaks at a paid seminar for employers about what actions to take so that they can overcome labour protection for workers, about potential traps in terminations, and what is the procedure when salaries are to be cut?

This article was published on 31 May 2020 at the Bulgarian section of the site “The Barricade”. Following this publication on 4 June 2020 The Barricade wrote, quoting the Bulgarian National Radio, that Nikolay Stoyanov – the chief judidical adviser at the Labour Inspection Agency in Bulgaria, has been dismissed. According to The Barricade’s sources, Teodora Dicheva, the head of the department for Social Policy, Education and Health Care at the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria, has been punished disciplinary after the Barricade’s revelations, but will not be fired by the Ombudsman Diana Kovacheva.  

There are many state institutions in Bulgaria which support businesses. The leading ideology here claims that “business creates jobs” and that is why it has to be taken special care of, to reduce its “administrative weight”, to offer the lowest taxes in the EU and other conveniences, to correct the Labour Code so that labour conditions become “more flexible” and the firing of employees easier, and make safety obligations and accountability minimal.

Against this backdrop, which totally adheres to the political consensus of the leading political parties, there is also one institution which is expected to protect workers. It is responsible for the protection of labour rights of million workers and employees, who have not had the happiness of becoming “entrepreneurs”, in spite of the lessons on entrepreneurship at school.

The executive agency “Chief Labour Inspection” (EA LI) has the difficult task of being the only institutional support for workers, monitoring employers’ compliance with labour law.

However, it turns out that just like many other systems in Bulgaria, this one is also bent to the advantage of the stronger party – the employers. It is not only the limited capacity for inspections and the low remuneration, but also something more – a leading employee of the agency has assumed a role in support of employers’ interest to the detriment of the workers.

Nikolay Stoyanov is the chief juridical consultant (jurisconsult) of the Labour Inspection Agency. In this agency, he is the man who should know best the details of the labour code and judicial practice. He has even summed up the latest one in his first book – “Termination of a labour contract without notice”. Stoyanov is active, not only in print, but also online at the website with the clever name “Uvolni.me (Ima nachin!)” (Fire.me (There is a way)). The site belongs to the chief juridical consultant of the EA LI; he created it and publishes articles there.

In the middle of the pandemic crisis, in which hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians have lost their jobs and income, the chief juridical consultant of the Labour Inspection Agency has no reasons to be unhappy. But not because he has a lot of work to do for the benefit of terminated and suffering workers. To the contrary – Stoyanov uses this moment to transfer his detailed knowledge to employers about labour legislation and all the possible mechanisms for firing workers and avoiding court intervention.

Together with the remuneration he receives from the Agency, the chief juridical consultant of the only institution in Bulgaria which should protect those who have less power to protect themselves does exactly the opposite – he advises the stronger power on how to easily do damage to the weaker.

The seminar

On the 15th of May, Nikolay Stoyanov was one of two speakers in an online seminar titled, “Labour relations after the emergency situation”. Attending cost 80 levs for each participant. At the beginning of the seminar, around 20 users appeared. Having no scruples, Stoyanov marketed himself as the chief juridical consultant of the Labour Inspection Agency. At his website, Uvolni.me, one can also find advice for employees. But the description of the seminar’s content leaves no doubt who will be the beneficiaries of this advice:

– Protection in termination cases – what actions can an employer take to overcome employee job protections?

– Which are “the hidden obstacles” in cases of terminations on the grounds of article 328 of the Labour Code?

– How is the order for termination of the labour contract delivered to the terminated employee?

– Procedures and legal code for the reduction of remuneration and others

A few days before the date of the seminar, the most scandalous part of its description disappeared mysteriously from the web (it can still be seen on its cached version). In spite of the edit to the description, those who paid the participation fee had the opportunity to enjoy a presentation with hundreds of slides full of examples and advice.

But in any case, there is no doubt who Stoyanov was advising – the fee of 80 levs (around 40 euro – note that it is the country where according to the Ministry of Finance 80% of people receive up to 460 euro/month) itself is sufficient proof. Hardly anyone would guess that a worker in fear of dismissal would be able to take out such a sum of money to pay for an online seminar in the current situation.

In the beginning Stoyanov, who proudly put the logo of “Labour Inspection” in the presentation, didn’t miss the opportunity to promote his site “Uvolni.me.” Then he revealed the topic of his next book – “The disciplinary firing”. In it, he quotes various cases of workers who have attacked their employers’ actions in court and gives advice about all the necessary documentation – e.g. for proof of the necessity of reducing the number of personnel, so that the terminated worker can’t win a court case on that basis.

“I have analysed the judicial practice and I have taken away from it these six points, which you can print and enact,” Stoyanov stated sincerely to his viewers, who had paid to learn about hidden traps in termination proceedings and ways to overcome worker protections.

“Cut the number of positions before issuing the order for termination of contract!” advised the chief juridical consultant of the Labour Inspection, as if any employer would make this stupid mistake.

But Stoyanov had many more useful pieces of advice – for example, to cut the number of jobs by outsourcing certain activities to an external firm: “There is no legal barrier to outsourcing labour functions to an external company and cutting the number of jobs. The employer can give certain activity to an external company – outsourcing. The end of certain supportive activity (accounting, depositing in warehouse, transport and others) leads to the elimination of the need for the personnel to do it.”

That is how a few years ago they swiftly fired a number of operators in the already bankrupted TV Bulgarian independent/internet Television (BiT). The activity of filming shows and reports – which is a fundamental activity for any channel – was outsourced to an “external firm” and the jobs were cut. Operators were fired on this ground, but a bit later they were reemployed in an external firm which had been contracted to do the exact same job.

The slide from Nickolay Stoyanov’s presentation on outsourcing gives valuable advice to employers (photo: screenshot)

The fired employees/operators of BiT didn’t attend a paid online lecture in order to know such schemes and how they work. But we are not sure whether the same is true of the new owners, who have not paid salaries to tens of people and who finished off the television channel a few months later.

Coincidentally or not, later in the online seminar, Nikolay Stoyanov doesn’t mention the media, but cites a case of a freed operator: “The need for filming news segments was eliminated, because the respective employers signed a contract for exchange with another media, which provided filming for them.”

The creator of Uvolni.me had other useful advice for streamlining the termination of workers. For example, he explained the case of the half-time job. This means changing a [full-time] job to a part-time position, which also means smaller wages. Stoyanov explained that the employee has the right to offer a part-time position to a worker, whom he wants to fire, so that the worker rejects the offer and on that basis the boss is able to legally fire the worker.

Another important trick – defining certain working position as a 0,5 job (photo: screenshot)

The juridical adviser of the Labour Inspection also had something to say about so-called “recruitment” – when in the case of closure of a section of a factory, the cutting of jobs, or a reduction in the amount of work, the employer has the right to recruit new workers and fire the currently employed ones “in the interest of production or service.” The positions are not eliminated, so those workers who remain employed by the company and others “who have greater qualifications and work more efficiently”, fill them.

“This is very interesting,” exclaimed Stoyanov as he reached the [section of his presentation on] so-called “criteria for evaluation” for recruitment. And he explained that the employer determines the evaluation criteria, and the court cannot revoke a job reduction order, because the employer has introduced specific criteria: “This is very important. The employer determines the criteria and decides which criteria has merit. The court can only verify whether the worker matches the criteria!” explains Nikolay Stoyanov. He adds that “against each criteria the employer can put its weight” which is “completely subjective right of the employer.” 

At this point it comes to Stoyanov’s mind that the participants who paid 80 levs during the climax of the COVID-19 crisis to listen to his lecture, also should be advised: “[If] in court the worker cannot prove higher qualification with documents…If he has missed giving them to the employer… [now is when he should provide] the corresponding documents.” But he doesn’t miss making a slide for factory owners about proof of qualifications, namely – the employer is not required to ask for documents; he can take into consideration only what the worker has decided to submit in his application. Stoyanov admits that he was tempted to also include other ideas about circumventing recruitment – for example, if an employer re-employs other workers in other positions and cuts only one position. Regarding the criterion “level of completed work”, he pointed out that the employer can prove a low level of completion with “evidence from a witness” – for example, “remarks made by another employee.” Useful!

Support from the Ombudsman

The first part of the online seminar was led by the chief of the Department of Social Policy, Education and Healthcare at the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria, Teodora Dicheva. By coincidence, she has worked for more than 10 years as the director of the juridical department of the Labour Inspection Agency. Another high juridical representative of the state institution, which we all expect to protect the weaker party in labour relations – the worker.

Dicheva discussed the changes in labour legislation during the state of emergency and the continuation [of said] emergency situation. How can the emergency options provided to employers be applied so that a worker can start working part-time and for half a normal salary? This is why the unilaterally imposed changes don’t need to be coordinated with the labour unions or the representatives of workers and employees. This is being applied in companies which not only didn’t suffer during the pandemic situation, but also increased their turnover.

The director turned her attention to the topic of forcing a worker to use his or her full paid leave, without the worker’s agreement. There is a very interesting part of the presentation, where Mrs. Dicheva points out a loophole in the 60/40 [payment] measure (payment of 60% of employees salary is by the state and 40% by the employer during the pandemic), which allows the employer to reduce the owed sum in accordance with the [level of] remuneration paid to a worker in January 2019. This gap will be corrected in the latest variant of minister council’s decree 55, but until then, jurists such as the Ombudsman’s expert advise employers how to cut labour remunerations in the crisis without any problems.

“On leave and without remuneration”

According to the two institutions’ answers – the Labour Inspection Agency and the Ombudsman – their employees Nickolay Stoyanov and Teodora Dicheva have not violated the  internal regulations of these entities, because the day of the seminar was a day they had off. The answers to the questions, which were sent to “The Barricade” have some differences, but as a whole there seems to have been coordination.

For example, both the Labour Inspection and the Ombudsman said that the two speakers in the respective seminar had taken the day off for the webinar. Also,  according to the two institutions, Stoyanov and Dicheva did not receive any payment for their participation.

Let no one dare to say that the state impedes business. It turns out that its two employees sacrificed a day from their vacation, gave some amount of time for preparation of tens of slides, for studying legislation and judicial practice, and after that they led an online seminar for hours, while they have not received even a penny in exchange for all the work in support of Bulgarian business! We are told to believe [in response to] The Barricade’s inquiry:

“The Executive Agency “Chief Labour Inspection” has a strict zero tolerance policy towards any activities which harm the good name and reputation of the administration. All reports of  misconduct lead to an internal inquiry.”

In their answer to the question of whether there is a ban on employees or jurists giving private consultations to employers (in exchange for payment) on how to fire workers without barriers, the press office of the Labour Inspection Agency answered that “consultation and [providing] information to both employers and workers is part of the official obligations of the workers at the Executive Agency “Chief Labour Inspection”.”

“According to the rules…of the Executive Agency “Chief Labour Inspection”, [the Agency] fulfills its activities by giving information and technical advice to employers and employees for the most effective methods of respecting labour legislation, which regulates the health and safety conditions of the workplace and other normative acts, which are controlled by the Agency, according to the law.”

The employees of the Labour Inspection Agency, no matter their position, have no right to give private consultations in exchange for payment on any grounds, according to the Executive Agency “Chief Labour Inspection”.

The response also pointed out that there is an established order, [through] which the agency’s employees can become lectors. It can only happen if they take the day off. After all, from the Labour Inspection letter: “…according to the ethical code for employees of the Executive Agency “Chief Labour Inspection”, [employees] have no right to do consulting activity with people who have a vested interest in the agency’s mission,  during the accomplishment of their official duties”. Each case of such abuse requires disciplinary action.

Were there webinar attendees interested in the actions of the Labour Inspection in the frame of the seminar and should disciplinary action be imposed on Nickolay Stoyanov? We leave it to the Labour Inspection Agency and our readers to decide.

The Labour Inspection Agency protects Nickolay Stoyanov saying that, in a TV interview, he put emphasis on “an appeal to employers during the state of emergency to use grounds, which don’t damage the right of workers and employees.” And the agency adds that “each established abuse of the norms of ethical conduct requires concrete measures for its termination and non-permission of other similar cases.”

As a result of The Barricade’s questioning, an inquiry case has started, which has led, so far, to the temporary stop of the site “Uvolni.me”, an answer from the Labour Inspection shows:

“In connection with the given information on the concrete case, an inquiry has been started. So far, it has been established that the webinar was organised by the platform Znamkak.com. Nickolay Stoyanov participated in the seminar as a guest speaker. On the day of the webinar, he used his paid annual leave. The gathered information shows that during his participation, Nickolay Stoyanov gave publicly accessible information on judicial practice related to the termination of a labour contract with notice by the employer, which will be the topic of his next book. Nickolay Stoyanov says that he hasn’t received any remuneration for his participation, which will be traced by the Executive Agency “Chief Labour Inspection”. Until clarification of the case by the Executive Agency “Chief Labour Inspection”, it has recommended that Nickolay Stoyanov stop activity of the site Uvolni.me, which he has already done.”

An inquiry has been undertaken by the Ombudsman as well. Explanations were asked for from Teodora Dicheva, says the Ombudsman institution in its answer. 

“Mrs. Dicheva participated in a webinar on 15.05.2020 in the capacity of an expert on labour law and not as an employee of the administration of the Ombudsman. According to her stated position, she did not present herself as an employee of the Ombudsman and neither did the organiser when the webinar started. Her implication was only as a labour law expert,” read the Ombudsman’s statement.

Just like the Labour Inspection Agency, this administration pointed out that Dicheva had the day of the seminar off, and that her participation “was not related to her being paid by the organiser.”

“The objective of the presentation, according to Mrs. Dicheva’s explanation, was the [presentation] of the Law for State of Emergency and the Labour Code. The presentation aimed to show the most correct application of the Labour Law with the goal of guaranteeing the rights and legal interests of the parties in  labour relations. These rules are best protected when employers, state officials, workers and employees know and respect the norms of labour legislation.”

They added that during her presentation Teodora Dicheva “never gave advice to employers about how to find “loopholes in the laws”” and that during her participation, she took into consideration the Code of Conduct for Employees in the Administration of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria.”

Photo: What are the best advices for Bulgarian workers to see goodbye easily to their jobs? (source: Pixabay, CC0)

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