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News 23 May 17

Bulgaria Imports Cheap Regional Labour to Save Tourism Boom

As Bulgarian workers seek higher paid jobs in Spain or Greece ahead of tourist season, the country is being forced to import cheaper labour from its neighbours. 

Mariya Cheresheva
Sunny Beach. Photo: Andrei Dan Suciu/CC BY 3.0

Facing a serious problem with a shortage of workers ahead of the summer season, Bulgaria's booming tourist industry is seeking to employ foreign workers to meet the growing demand.

While the Ministry of Tourism forecasts a rise of up to 10 per cent in numbers of tourists this summer, the sector unofficially estimates it is short of 15,000 to 25,000 workers to provide services for the increase.

"I am very worried. We are bringing in more foreign tourists because of different geopolitical factors - but how are we going to provide them services?” Elena Ivanova, president of the Union of Owners in Sunny Beach, the largest resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea, told BIRN.

“Only foreigners can offer us some perspective,” Ivanova said, explaining that Bulgarian workers either seek jobs abroad, or are “young and unqualified people who do not want to work”.

She said that nationals from Ukraine and Moldova, which have large ethnic Bulgarian communities, as well as Macedonia and Belarus, are the most willing to take summer jobs at Bulgaria’s seaside resorts.

At a roundtable in November 2016, the President of the Independent Syndical Federation in Trade, Cooperatives, Tourism and Services called salaries in the tourism sector in Bulgaria “humiliating”, noting that the average monthly pay cheque in the sector in Bulgaria was only 295 euros compared with 2,000 euros in Spain.

In January, the Labour Ministry eased the conditions for hiring non-EU citizens for seasonal jobs in the tourist and agricultural sectors, after that option was introduced under a new labour migration act in 2016.

Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov said in the resort of Varna on May 19 that additional incentives to attract foreign nationals had been introduced, including a speeded-up process for obtaining visas and removing the old requirement for an official translation of would-be workers' foreign diplomas and certificates.

Bulgarian trade unions, however, do not share the employers’ enthusiasm about hiring foreign staff.

The Confederation of Independent Syndicates in Bulgaria, CISB, insists that if the tourist sector offered higher wages, local workers would not leave to work in countries like Spain or Greece.
In January, the CISB opposed a request by the employers’ organisations to widen the list of professions for which Bulgaria can import non-EU workers, saying it would put Bulgarian and EU workers in an unequal position.

“Such an approach would damage the interests of Bulgarian citizens and not answer a number of social and demographic questions,” the union said.

After Bulgaria’s tourism sector snotched up record high growth of over 10 per cent in 2016, the ministry expects another surge of 7 to 10 per cent this summer.

According to early forecasts, provided to BIRN from the ministry, the biggest growth of foreign tourists is expected from Germany, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, France, the Netherlands, and others.

The ministry notes that Balkan tourists tend decide where to spend their summer holidays at a late stage, but still expects to maintain or even boost the current interest from Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey.

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