[Interview] Bulgaria Minister of Labour and Social Policy Ivailo Kalfin: I expect interesting, fruitful and future-related discussions for ASEM LEMC5

Bulgarian Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Mr Ivailo KALFIN

With the 5th ASEM Labour and Employment Ministers' Conference (ASEM LEMC5) coming up on 4-5 December 2015, Bulgarian Minister of Labour and Social Policy Ivailo KALFIN shares his thoughts on the priorities on the upcoming meeting.

This is the 5th ministerial meeting between Labour ministers from Asia and Europe under ASEM. What were the achievements so far?

Asia-Europe Meetings are traditionally very interesting and effective. Each one of the four meetings held focuses on hot topics concerning employment and social policies and allows discussing political or economic problems, which are global and cannot be resolved only by a single country or community. Such topics are, for example, labour mobility, fair working conditions, fight against grey economy, and protection of social rights. These are big issues that require a global approach, common and clear rules which should ensure security to a maximum number of people. Therefore I believe that the future is in such wide formats,  demonstrating mutual respect and equality among countries.

Why did Bulgaria decide to host the 5th ASEM Labour and Employment Ministers' Conference?  In which areas do you see Bulgaria best able to contribute to strengthen cooperation between Asia and Europe for labour?

Our country is situated at a geographical crossroads, at the junction of Europe and Asia, which makes it close to a great extent to the countries in the two continents. Bulgaria is a Member State of the European Union, shares its values and participates fully in the setting of its policies. At the same time, we have traditionally pro-active relationships with many Asian countries in the fields of economy, education, and historical heritage. With many of them we have a history of long-term relationships of friendship and cooperation. Therefore our hosting of such a large-scale forum is a challenge we accept with the ambition to create a suitable environment for a fruitful dialogue among participants. 

The topic of the upcoming 5th ASEM Labour and Employment Ministers' Conference  is very popular in Bulgaria. Ensuring fair working conditions for all Bulgarians working inside and outside the country is a priority of our government. We take an active part in the European dialogue, make proposals and recommendations at the Labour and Employment Ministers’ EU Councils. We care very much to build a fair working environment for all vulnerable working groups where abuses are most common – including those employed in home provided services – child carers, carers and butlers.

Social protection of employees is another topic we have been pro-actively addressing.  In the past year, we managed to implement a pension reform, which is aligned as much as possible to the demographic challenges. In addition, Bulgaria is making serious efforts to regulate the social rights of employees on the grounds of international law. We encourage the signing of bilateral arrangements of social security. It is very important for us to participate in the global dialogue and first and foremost this is an essential topic for the citizens of today’s open world. 

What important issues would you like discussed during this upcoming LEMC and what outcomes would you like to see from this meeting?

The subject of the upcoming conference to be held on 3-4 December 2015 in Sofia is “Towards sustainable social development in Asia and Europe: A common vision for decent work and social protection“. In the course of three sessions we will be able to exchange experience and good practices on the possibilities and challenges for improving labour market conditions for young people from Asia and Europe. In addition, we will discuss decent work conditions and the possibility for creating and maintaining safe jobs by promoting higher working and social standards.

The first session will give us the opportunity to exchange on youth employment which is a top priority in both Asia and Europe. The exchange will focus especially on key employment barriers concerning those who are neither in employment nor in education or training (the so-called NEET) or those with low education or skills. In particular, we’ll assess how ASEM can contribute to the respective goals of the recently adopted Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030. 

The second session will give us the opportunity to discuss the role of national policies in ensuring decent work and safer workplaces in critical sectors of global supply chains. We’ll look at the discussions in the relevant international fora (e.g. ILO, OECD, G7 and G20) and assess how ASEM can play a role in promoting those efforts.

The third session will build on the Hanoi Declaration, where the Ministers agreed that social protection represents a durable investment in social justice, stability, economic and labour market development and committed to implement nationally defined social protection floors. We’ll share experience with the progress and challenges in delivering social protection, for ex. in respect to combating poverty, inequality, in-work poverty etc., and at the same time implement measures to ensure the sustainability and adequacy of social security systems.

The closing document of the Conference is expected to adopt a “Sofia Declaration” reflecting the main messages in the discussions. I believe that sending a strong political message from Sofia will boost cooperation between European and Asian partners and add a new value to the summit to be held in 2016 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, which will be the culmination of the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of ASEM. 

I expect interesting, fruitful and future related discussions in Sofia. As a host, I will be glad to welcome my ASEM colleagues to Bulgaria.