Luk Zelderloo and Georgi Georgiev met with Minister Biser Petkov
A meeting was held between Minister of Labour and Social Policy Biser Petkov, EASPD Secretary General Luk Zelderloo, NASO President Georgi Georgiev, and Deputy Minister Zornitsa Rusinova at the MLSP on 10 October 2017.
The meeting, initiated by NASO and held in the context of the NASO’s social sector priorities and its partnership with the MLSP, was focused on the main issues, proposals and conclusions drawn from this year’s NASO National Forum and the joint European conference in Bulgaria in 2018.
Minister Petkov welcomed Luk Zelderloo and expressed his satisfaction of meeting him, which gave them the opportunity to promote the cooperation between MLSP and EASPD. He also expressed his satisfaction with the NASO's activities and the readiness of the MLSP to establish even a more active partnership with NASO in the areas it works. He outlined the main directions of the Ministry for working in the social sector and the development of social services and disability policies, and in partnership with all other institutions and the non-governmental sector.
Mr Zelderloo congratulated the Ministry’s team and Minister Petkov personally on their active work in the social sector and on their open cooperation with organisations working on quality social services and good support for people with disabilities. He thanked for the productive partnership of NASO and EASPD with the Ministry’s team on various priority topics for people with disabilities and social service providers in Bulgaria.
In appreciating the social sector development in Bulgaria Luk Zelderloo pointed out a number of facts and initiatives implemented in participation with EASPD and NASO. He also said that EASPD fully appreciated the NASO’s contribution to the association’s activities at European level, particularly the work of Mr Georgi Georgiev as an EASPD Board member. Readiness and willingness were shown to hold a joint European conference in Bulgaria in 2018 under the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. After a thorough analysis of the European priorities and the specificity of the Bulgarian reality, the proposal was made for the conference to focus on social economy development and social entrepreneurship by giving priority to social services development, local social policies and initiatives, and disability employment. It was commented that between 300 and 400 attendees were expected to take part in the conference, about 150 of them should come from abroad. EASPD has committed itself to providing professional European speakers, as well as the most up-to-date information on the European Parliament and the European Commission.
On behalf of the NASO Board and its national network and summarizing the topics of this year’s National Forum, Mr Georgi Georgiev outlined the main topics and proposals for partnership with NASO in its priority areas, namely social services development in Bulgaria, disability employment, support for improving the quality of life of people with disabilities, as well as:
- Development of deinstitutionalization process for children and adults;
- Adoption of the Social Services Act;
- Ensuring equal treatment of social service providers;
- Clear definition and distinction of the responsibilities of the state, municipalities, external providers and social service users;
- High quality achievement and efficiency to meet the users’ needs;
- Accepting quality standards for social services;
- Updating financial standards for social services;
- Boosting the pay of social service workers, their working conditions, and their professional and career development;
- Funding and implementing supported employment — a global and European support model;
- Incentives and support for employers providing employment;
- Adoption of a Law on Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship and a comprehensive regulatory framework ensuring the development of social entrepreneurship in all Bulgaria regions, including municipalities, social services structures, the civil sector, etc. to stimulate employment for people in need of support;
- According a new status and support to specialized enterprises for people with disabilities and transforming them into social enterprises in line with the existing global and European models for social enterprises;
- Legal regulation and development of social enterprises and workshops and provision of employment opportunities and personal development for social service users;
- Changes in the disability system by reducing the administrative burden on people with disabilities and applying the most simplified procedures and support options possible in all areas of their lives, namely their family, education, employment;
- Tailored support and incentives for learners and workers with disabilities;
- Enhanced procedures for adequate social support and avoiding poverty due to disability;
- Improving the status of national disability-related organisations and supporting them in their responsibilities and contribution to the development of disability policies.
An important focus of attention at the meeting was low pay in the social services sector and lack of wage growth in the overall standard of social services funding relative to the significant rise in the minimum wage in recent years. The discrepancy between the rise in the minimum wage and the wage growth for social services workers has already led to a significant outflow of personnel from the social services sector. The announced 10 % increase in public sector pay for 2018 is unlikely to cover wages for social services workers because the already approved 2018 budget for social services does not provide such a wage rise. There is a need for rapid response and corresponding decisions on this issue.
In regard to social economy development and social entrepreneurship in Bulgaria, Luk Zelderloo and Georgi Georgiev placed emphasis on the need to view disability employment as a policy and practice that could involve at least 200,000 Bulgarian citizens with disabilities in the labour market, whose access to job opportunities is currently blocked. “There are about 400,000 working-age individuals with disabilities in Bulgaria, and at least 200,000 of them can fully participate in the open labour market on an equal basis with the other Bulgarian citizens,” Mr Georgiev pointed out. This requires inclusive and supportive education and social services, development and funding of supported employment, and social economy and entrepreneurship development adequate for Bulgarian conditions. EASPD and NASO have the experience and expertise necessary to address these topics and are willing to work actively with the MLSP to achieve social inclusion through employment for people in need of support in Bulgaria.
There are currently between 15,000 and 20,000 employed individuals with disabilities in Bulgaria, and 1,700 of them are in specialized enterprises and cooperatives. About 15,000 persons with disabilities are employed in the open labour market, and 4,000 of them work in the NASO structures and member organisations. EASPD and NASO have suggested opening up a discussion as to transforming the specialized enterprises and cooperatives in Bulgaria into social enterprises in line with the forthcoming adoption of the new law and the normative decisions concerning this area. Following global and European policies and practices, it may be considered not to introduce sheltered employment in Bulgaria, and this kind of support to be taken up by a variant of social enterprises, examples of which there are in Europe and the world. The meeting’s attendees came to a common understanding about the fact that a significant contribution to the development of disability employment could be achieved mainly through development of supported employment, support, inclusion and incentives for employers hiring disabled workers in the open labour market. In this context, Mr Georgiev presented the NASO’s view on dealing with these issues.
At the end of the meeting, which went far beyond the scheduled time, the participants expressed their overall satisfaction with the opportunity given and the discussion held, as well as their positive expectations for even a more fruitful partnership in future. Mr Luk Zelderloo and Mr Georgi Georgiev accepted the invitation to join an MLSP conference together with the EU Ministers for Social Affairs in April 2018.