Bulgaria has the lowest minimum wage in the European Union and is also the poorest country in the bloc. It is these dire labour conditions that are dominating the debate as the European elections loom.
With the EU Parliamentary elections under four weeks away, Euronews is counting down by taking a road trip across the continent to speak to voters about the issues that matter to them. We are visiting towns and villages around Europe – inviting people to talk about what's on their minds, ahead of what is a key vote at a crucial moment for the European Union.
In the next stop of the Bulgarian leg of the trip, Euronews correspondent Bryan Carter travels to Sofia, where he meets those protesting low salaries, and poor working conditions.
In the streets of Sofia, drums bang, and music bellows out. It’s Labour Day, and hundreds are marching, protesting low wages and poor working conditions.
Bulgaria has the lowest minimum wage in the European Union – only €286 per month – and it’s also the poorest country in the bloc. It is these dire labour conditions that are dominating the debate as the European elections loom – but people in Sofia are divided as to whether the EU is the solution, or part of the problem.
Bus driver Yiodan Mladenov says that earning a living has become increasingly difficult. “In the past, there used be a lot of shortcomings, but there were also some good things. It seems to me that the social policies for workers were better. We used to have state-run vacation hotels for example. We were better paid for the work we did.
“We managed to get a significant pay rise for bus drivers, but more and more drivers are still looking for work abroad. This labour shortage means that we have to work long extra hours and without taking any breaks.”
Veselin Mitov, International Secretary of Podkrepa, the Bulgarian Confederation of Labour says that although some blame the poor salaries on the EU, much of it has to do with Bulgaria’s own financial crisis.
“Unfortunately, the joining to the EU coincided with the financial crisis, and in Bulgaria the crisis was very strong. Many years we had frozen salaries, that’s the reason why we have the lowest salary and now we try to catch up and to accelerate the growth of the salaries.
"Unfortunately, it is not enough and many Bulgarians continue to leave the country.”
Vanya Grigorova, an Economic adviser at Podkrepa adds that the solution must be an EU-wide one, and one that Bulgaria can’t solve on its own.
“Multinational corporations, they are global so we cannot resist only from the national point of view, that is why we and our people should understand that we have to act as European citizens, not only as Bulgarians.”
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