Revised framework agreement on participation in regional and local authorities
A framework agreement has recently been negotiated in Denmark's regional and local government which is based on the recognition by the social partners that improved cooperation leads to improved regional and local services. The agreement makes it mandatory for local agreements to be drawn up providing for more cooperation between workers and employers, improved conditions of employment and an enhancement of the role of shop stewards.
The framework agreement, signed on 15 November 1996, for the 625,000 employees in the 275 Danish municipalities and 14 counties, is the culmination of six years of experiments with new structures for cooperation between workers and employers. The agreement is a response to the increasing demands imposed on local and regional authorities for quality services, budgetary restraints and improvements in efficiency and increased flexibility on the part of employees.
The new agreement
The most important innovations in the revised framework agreement are:
- increased participation and influence for workers;
- local agreements can be conducted on the content of and structure for cooperation in a single local/regional authority;
- local agreements can be concluded on changes in cooperation on health and safety;
- the shop steward is the key worker representative;
- provisions can be agreed on improving conditions for shop stewards;
- improved training is provided for management and workers' representatives who are elected to works councils; and
- a central cooperation committee (ie works council) for the entire local/regional authority is to be established, with representatives from both sides.
Negotiations are to be conducted at local level with a view to:
- defining goals and content for joint influence and participation in the individual local/regional authority;
- devising a structure for cooperation which matches the management structure, and is appropriate for implementing the measures required to meet local needs and achieve local goals; and
- discussing and reaching agreement on conditions for worker representatives if their functions undergo essential changes.
Local agreements on joint influence and participation must:
- stipulate guidelines for the discussion of a number of issues - such as personnel policy, recruitment, dismissals, promotions and further training, including the impact of budgetary measures on working conditions and employment. The adopted guidelines are binding on the parties, and if the parties fail to reach an agreement on these guidelines, employees are entitled to be informed of management's intentions; and
- contain provisions which make it possible to negotiate and conclude agreements in the local/regional central cooperation committee (works council)
The role of the shop steward
One of the cornerstones of the new agreement is the role of the shop steward. Since more intensified cooperation between management and employees is envisaged, the shop stewards will come to play an even more important, if not crucial, role. The duties of the shop steward are to:
- receive and pass on information to management, the group of employees in the shop steward's constituency, and the union at workplace level;
- negotiate local working conditions and negotiate and conclude agreements on conditions within the shop steward's sphere of competence;
- coordinate goals and measures with other shop stewards and to hold meetings with employees;
- serve as a member of the joint influence and participation committee, and participate in its meetings and other activities; and
- in addition to their traditional function, shop stewards can also take responsibility for the working environment which has traditionally been the function of a separate health and safety representative.
The social partners agreed that further training is a vital prerequisite of the need to promote an effective dialogue between management and shop stewards. During the first year of the operation of the new agreements, a sum of DKK 14 million has been allocated to fund this further training. Management and shop stewards serving on the committees will undergo seven days of basic training, to be followed by a range of optional theme courses
Whilst both sides were in agreement about the need for further training, there was some disagreement about how much time shop stewards needed to enable them to perform their duties effectively. The Association of Local Government Employees in Denmark (KTO) argued that it should be made mandatory to reach an agreement on this matter, whereas the employers preferred that it should be subject to local discussions. The result was a compromise, which stated that if the conclusion of a local agreement leads to essential changes in the role and function of the shop steward then an agreement would have to be concluded to take account of this in relation to the conditions of employment of the shop stewards. This will depend on a number of factors, including: the content of the local agreement and any changes envisaged in work organisation; the size of the workplace; the number of employees represented; and whether the shop steward also takes on responsibility for the working environment.
Although there are few surveys on the time shop stewards have to carry out their duties, a survey undertaken by the Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees in Denmark (HK), does suggest that this a real issue of contention. According to the survey( HK/Kommunal - Tillidsrepræsentanternes arbejdsvilkår, erfaringer og holdninger, October 1996) two-thirds of the shop stewards representing members of HK felt that they had insufficient time to carry out their union duties. The majority of HK shop stewards in the municipalities and counties spends five or more hours weekly on union duties than is the case in other sectors, and approximately 40% state that they need more time at their disposal. Around 70% of HK shop stewards claimed that they spend some of their own leisure time on shop steward work.
Shop stewards will also have an important role to play in the new decentralised salary scale system which will be introduced from 1 April 1998 and affect more than 60% of all employees in the county and some 56% of all employees in the municipal sector. The challenge is to ensure that they have the necessary bargaining skills. According to a joint survey on decentralised wage agreements by the social partners (Decentrale aftaler om Løn og pension, November 1996) in the regional and municipal sector, 20% of shop steward respondents were given a fixed number of hours to prepare for and to undertake bargaining negotiations and it was rare for substitutes to be used.
Meanwhile, as part of the celebrations of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) centenary in 1998, the organisation has designated 1998 as the "Year of the Shop Steward".