COMPANIES TO PAY FOR LABOUR MEDICINE AS WELL
Employers in Bulgaria will have to make plans for a new type of payment as of next year. It refers to the agreements they are required to sign with a registered labour medicine service according to the Act on Hygienci and Safe Labour Conditions. Although the law was adopted in 1998, agreements with these services become mandatory as of January 1, 2004.Until the law entered into force, this type of liabilities used to be settled by the Labour Code (and a number of regulations) and because of the tax relieves provided it attracted the interest of the companies. Art. 282 of the Labour Code requires each employer to provide medical services to his employees. According to art. 287, an employer should also organize his employees' periodical check-ups and pay for them. The payments he was forced to make were acknowledged as expenditure. At the same time, the medical services that workers got free of charge were not considered an incomes, so the value of the services were exempt from taxes and insurance payments.However, labour medicine services to which companies will have to pay from 2004 are not a relief. Just the opposite - they are a burden, because the profit they bring is not so certain. Theoretically, everything is clear - by teaching the employees about hygienic labour conditions and by giving advice on the light, the noise and the other conditions of the work place, the medical service reduces the risk of professional diseases and accidents. It means that it saves any future compensation payments an employer might face in case that an injured employee brings him to court. In practice, however, things look quite different. There is at least one reason to doubt that the obligatory medical agreements will make workers healthier. These services do not assume any responsibility for the results of their work as soon as their documents are regular. Besides, it's not quite clear how the Hygienic and Epidemic Institute (which is authorized to control them) will manage to check whether they have fulfilled their commitment for a 30-hour healthy labour training of a company's employees. Even if an employer has met all the requirements, he is still responsible for any possible accident. There are 413 labour medicine services registered at present. More than 120 of them are located in Sofia. Among them there are hospitals and small consulting companies as well as ... entire plants. A regulation issued by the healthcare minister in 1998 allows employers themselves to register as medical services. Kremikovtsi, Alen Mak, Union Miniere Pirdop Med, and other big companies have already taken advantage of that opportunity. It's not worth making such an effort for smaller enterprises - it seems more advantageous for them to pay an annual subscription fee to a medical establishment.The operations of the medical services have been specified by the above-mentioned regulation and several other documents. The services need to have at least three employees - a labour hygiene expert, an engineer, and a person with a certificate from a vocational secondary school. Of course, those who plan to play a bigger role on the market should not limit themselves to the lowest number of three professionals. They usually operate as a medical establishment.As far as prices are concerned, there are considerable variations. Most services offer a fixed annual or monthly fee per employee, which usually depends on the number of the employed people and more rarely, on the type and amount of work. Companies with about a dozen of workers are most frequently required to pay BGN2 or BGN3 per each for a month, but sometimes prices go down to BGN1.50. Usually the price of a medical check-up is paid separately and can change our ideas about an advantageous agreement. One of the oldest labour medicine services which charges each employee BGN24 per year, requires BGN27 before VAT for a medical check-up. A competitor of that service requires an average fee which amounts to BGN38, including check-ups.