Bulgarian Parliament’s legal committee approved at first reading on March 17 a bill on the State of Emergency measures to limit the spread and overcome the consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Drafted by the Justice Ministry and tabled late on March 16 by a group of MPs from Gerb, the senior partner in the country’s government coalition, the bill includes the anti-epidemic measures already ordered by Health Minister Kiril Ananiev on March 13. It also says that more drastic measures can be implemented at the recommendation of the Covid-19 crisis staff.
The bill mandates that employers should introduce distance work whenever possible and if not, implement strong anti-epidemic measures, including disinfection of the premises and hygiene training for their employees. However, it does not stipulate any specific social distancing measures.
The bill also suspends procedural deadlines on all current lawsuits, save the criminal ones, and terminates all public auctions by state and private court enforcement agents. Additionally, it limits notary operations to “urgent and emergency” cases.
In its transitional and final provisions, the draft bill amends a number of other laws, including the Penal Code, Labour Code and Social Security Code.
The Labour Code changes will allow employers to force employees to take their paid leave during the State of Emergency. When a company’s operations are suspended by government order, employees have to be paid no less than 50 per cent of their net wages, but no less than 75 per cent of the minimum salary mandated by law.
During the committee discussion, Labour Minister Denitsa Sacheva said that the government was proposing to pay – for a period of three months – 60 per cent of the wages of employees in companies affected by the Covid-19 epidemic , with the remaining 40 per cent covered by the employer.
The bill did not contain any provisions in that sense and it was expected to be amended to include the government proposal between readings.
Sacheva said that “under certain criteria and in certain economic sectors”, employers would be able to apply for state aid from the unemployment fund of the State Social Security Institute, to receive 60 per cent of wages covered by the government, Bulgarian National Radio reported.
The Penal Code changes envision a prison term of up to three years and fines of up to 10 000 leva (about 5100 euro) for disseminating “untrue information about the spreading of an infectious disease”.
Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev had previously asked for harsher punishments. On March 17, he attended the legal committee’s hearing on the bill and criticised the draft for not going far enough, arguing for “more radical” measures.
His suggestions included a ban on all trips abroad (which the Tourism Minister ordered shortly after), suspending transportation between cities and a possible quarantine in the winter ski resort of Bansko.
Bulgaria’s Parliament will hold its usual Wednesday-through-Friday sittings later this week and Justice Minister Danail Kirilov told BNR he was expecting the bill to be passed swiftly.
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