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Bulgarian Tolerance for Harassment Remains High, Says Expert at Zero Tolerance Forum

Bulgarians’ tolerance for violence and harassment remains high, said the Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities Development (CSCD) Stanimira Hadjimitova while speaking at the Zero Tolerance for Harassment and Violence at the Workplace conference organized by CSCD in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation here on Tuesday. The forum saw representatives of trade unions, employers and NGOs discuss aggressive behaviour at the workplace.
“We started with domestic violence: it triggers violence on the streets and in schools. And now, it is time to address the situation in the workplace,” Hadjimitova said. Prevention is a more efficient method to tackle violence rather than addressing it post-factum, according to her.
The Director of CSCD said that sexual harassment is among the factors contributing to the gender wage gap. People in low-paid jobs can feel the impact the worst by losing pension and health insurance benefits.
Among the speakers at the forum was Environment and Water Minister Borislav Sandov, who said that the Government is working on legislation to protect the societal groups most vulnerable to violence. Sandov described himself as a supporter of prevention through awareness, dialogue and mediation. He emphasized the employers’ role in tackling the problem and called for society to give up the notion that only women can be victims of violence and harassment.
Diana Georgieva, mediator and career consultant at CSCD, spoke about a particular type of harassment that remains largely ignored: harassment coming from third parties such as customers and patients. Georgieva explained the spike in cyberbullying with the fewer witnesses that the online environment can offer.
According to Assoc. Prof. Andrey Aleksandrov of the Institute for the State and the Law at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the penalties provided for in the Protection against Discrimination Act are negligible and generally ignored. Aleksandrov described the practice of employers paying bonuses at their own discretion as an example of indirect discrimination. “Discrimination is frequently considered to be a problem only for its direct target, however the entire workforce suffers from it, because it causes a lot of staff turnover,” Aleksandrov said.
Deputy Director of the Institute for Social and Trade Union Research with the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria Violeta Ivanova quoted data, according to which 48% of managers and only 26.4% of workers fully believe that their employer has implemented sufficient measures to prevent and adequately respond to sexual harassment at the workplace.
Bulgarians are often guilty of victim blaming, Ivanova said and added that this forces the victims to stay silent.
A third of all respondents admit that harassment at work is a reason they work under stress. Another 25% have quit due to harassment.
Nearly a third of the respondents believe that if the victim of sexual harassment at their workplace tried to resist, they would be psychologically abused in retaliation. Some 20% believe that the victim would lose their chance for promotion, and 16.8% imagine that the victim would be punished with harder assignments. Victims rarely report the harassment due to fear of retaliation, Ivanova said.