YEAR OF HOLIDAYS

by Anthony Georgieff

Parliament adopts law to streamline Bulgarian days off

One of Bulgaria's oddest quirks, the Council of Ministers passing decrees every year to "combine" holidays, is about to change.

The new holidays act, which the current parliament passed in December, intends to terminate the practice of combining holidays, which sometimes resulted in as many as seven-eight days off, especially in spring, when Bulgarians celebrate 1 May (the Communist-era Labour Day) and 6 May (the Christian Orthodox St George's Day), and in early Autumn, when 6 and 22 September are official bank holidays commemorating Unification and Independence respectively. Throw in as many as four days off for Easter and sometimes a whole week to "connect" Christmas with New Year's and you would be joining several million Bulgarians who constantly whine they live in the poorest EU economy but do enjoy the prolonged lunches, dinners and time offs that the government provides them with with the sole justification of enabling the population to relax more "efficiently."

Interestingly, some business days made days off in this manner had to be "worked" on preceding or following Saturdays. Knowing the work ethic of Bulgarians, especially in the civil service and the service sectors, it would not take a lot of imagination to see how "efficient" those Saturdays were.

Under the new legislation, holidays will be holidays on the exact day they fall – pretty simple and predictable with the exception of Easter, which is of course moveable in the calendar, but is always on a Sunday. To cushion the work blow, however, parliament decided that if a holiday fell on a Saturday and/or a Sunday, then the following Monday and/or Tuesday could be declared a bank holiday.

It seems puzzling at first, but here is a breakdown. In 2017, Bulgarians will officially not work in keeping with the following schedule. 2 January will be a day off as it is the Monday after New Year's. 3 March is an official bank holiday anyway. 14 and 17 April will be off (four days for Easter, which in Orthodox Bulgaria is on 16 April). 1 May, a Monday, is off anyway, but 8 May (also a Monday) will be off as well as St George's Day, 6 May, falls on a Saturday. 24 May, a Wednesday, is off anyway. 6 and 22 September are bank holidays on a Wednesday and Friday, so plenty of working days in September. Next Christmas will be 24, 25 and 26 December, with some MPs protesting that the following Wednesday, 27 December, should also be a day off because Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday.

Bulgarians will probably not mind as they, like everyone else in the Balkans, love to take a few days of work. However, the business community was displeased. Vasil Velev, the chairman of the Association of Industrial Capital, said as a result of the extra days off in 2017 Bulgaria's GDP would fall by 1 percent. To put it in plain language, every employee in Bulgaria would make 115 leva less in wages.

In an unusual move the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce sent a protest letter to the National Assembly in which it pointed out Bulgaria stood to lose about 1 billion leva as a result of the many holidays. Tim Kurt and Carmen Schtruck of the Deutsche-Bulgarische Industrie- und Handelskammer, the chamber that associates all German businesses in Bulgaria, pointed out that Germany also has a number of both fixed-date and moveable holidays that also sometimes fall on weekends. However, no German lawmaker would turn the following Monday into a bank holiday just as a compensation for the "unjust" calendar. If any German employee required to take an additional day off they could apply for paid leave.

It remains to be seen how businesses will apply the new legislation especially as after so many years of "combined" holidays Bulgarians have become used to longish breaks sometimes starting on a Thursday. According to the new act, the government will still be able to turn work days into bank holidays to commemorate important "historical, political, cultural and other" events.

Happy Bulgarian holidays!

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