PEACE OBLIGATION

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DENMARK
FREDSPLIGT
PEACE OBLIGATION

Abbreviated expression for the principle that, where a collective agreement has been concluded, the peaceful course of work must not be disrupted while the agreement remains in force. This principle is assumed by virtue of the conclusion of a collective agreement and does not require specific expression.

1) Disputes of rights and disputes of interest. The peace obligation principle means that any disagreements must be resolved without interrupting or disturbing the continued progress of work. Thus, from the time when the agreement is concluded all disputes between the parties are treated as disputes of rights, that is, disputes over the content or implementation of an existing legal claim (i.e. deriving from the agreement, which in other words is regarded as regulating the parties' differences exhaustively). Consequently, disputes must be resolved by way of negotiation or, if this fails, through legal proceedings (see dispute resolution ). This also applies to disputes as to whether the issues in question are actually covered at all by collectively agreed provisions between the parties. Only if it is established by legal process that this is not the case does the dispute acquire the nature of what is called a dispute of interest (i.e. a dispute over the establishment of a legal position on a matter where none already exists between the parties), which may lead to industrial action in the same way as disputes (of interest) aimed at the conclusion of a collective agreement dealing with the specific issue in question.

2) Types of breach of the peace obligation. Breaches of the peace obligation may be in the form of strikes (including brief stoppages, go-slows , etc.), lock-outs , blacking of employers by employees and blacklisting of employees by employers. They also include all other forms of conduct which may disrupt peaceful conditions, such as refusal to participate in mediation, arbitration, etc. by the industrial bodies for dispute settlement or refusal to comply with their decisions. As a matter of principle, all disruptions of work constitute breaches of the peace obligation even if they are not directed against the other party. Consequently, in Denmark this also includes industrial action that is not directed against the employer (such as "political" strikes intended as a protest demonstration against government policy). But it is also axiomatic that, while an agreement is in force, it is not lawful to bring work to a standstill in order to force the other party to alter the agreement prematurely or act in some particular way (e.g. staging a strike as an attempt to force the employer to dismiss, or not to dismiss, certain employees).

3) Those bound by the peace obligation. Broadly speaking, the peace obligation extends to all those belonging to the organizations covered by a collective agreement, including individual members in so far as they are capable of disrupting the peaceful progress of work through their conduct. The individual striking employee therefore also incurs liability (see penalty for breach of a collective agreement ). Normally, however, the elected officers of unions and employers' associations cannot be held personally liable for action they take in their official capacity, although although the organization in whose name they act does incur liability for their actions. Similarly, managerial employees who act in the name of an enterprise bound by a collective agreement cannot be held personally liable for any action on the part of the enterprise in contravention of the agreement (such as underpaying employees, dismissals infringing the agreement, etc.). In addition, liability to pay a fine can also be incurred by an individual element of an organization (e.g. a national union ) if it fails to use all available means to influence other elements (e.g. local union branches ) to maintain industrial peace. Where a breach of the peace obligation is committed by the members of an organization at the latter's instigation (for example, on its instructions or as the result of its wrong advice), its members will not normally be held liable to pay a fine. Outsiders, such as non-union members or deliberate trouble-makers (provokatører), are not bound by the peace obligation and are therefore by definition immune from any liability for its breach.

4) Basis of the peace obligation. In formal terms, the peace obligation is founded in the Basic Agreement between the DA and LO (and corresponding basic agreements ) as interpreted over the past hundred years, but it is also regarded as an implied term of any collective agreement that does not expressly provide otherwise. In the absence of any provision to the contrary in an agreement falling outside the scope of the old Basic Agreement, the principles derived from the latter also have supplementary effect in regard to the detailed content of the peace obligation.

5) Exceptions related to the individual contract of employment. Normally, the peace obligation does not prevent one party in an employment relationship from asserting their rights arising from breach of contract when the other party has committed a breach of the individual contract. For instance, employees are entitled to refuse to continue working (or simply to terminate the contract of employment) if the work presents a danger to their lives or a serious risk to their health (see life , honour or welfare ) or if the employer is unable or unwilling to pay them (see suspension of payment ). See also right to refuse performance , right to terminate without notice . Conversely, the employer is normally entitled to carry out summary dismissal if employees are grossly neglectful of their obligations under the contract of employment. However, the peace obligation principle means that breach of contract by employees in the form of participation in a strike contravening a collective agreement must be handled in accordance with the procedures prescribed for dealing with breach of collective agreements (see dispute resolution: disputes where a collective agreement is in force ) and therefore may not lead to summary dismissal, unless operational considerations (the necessity that work should be done) make summary dismissal an urgent requirement.

Nor does the peace obligation prevent normal, individual termination of the contract with notice by employer or employee, unless combined with other cases it in reality forms part of collective action with the concealed aim of exerting pressure (see " depopulation ").

6) Exceptions related to collective agreements. The peace obligation is also limited by virtue of collective agreements in that unionized employees in an enterprise affected by a (lawful) strike are not obliged to do work that is not being done because their fellow-employees are staging that strike (see work affected by a dispute ). In addition, there is a presumed right to initiate secondary/sympathy action in support of (lawful) primary action (cf. §2(1) of the DA/LO Basic Agreement ) by a fellow-organization.

Lastly, no peace obligation applies to work which according to the decision of an arbitration tribunal lies outside the scope of the relevant collective agreement (for example, newly introduced tasks which did not exist when the agreement was concluded, referred to as new work ). Subject to strict conditions, retaliatory action may likewise be initiated against the other party to the agreement if they persist in contravening it. In cases where, despite the peace obligation, a stoppage of work is lawful as a means of exerting pressure on the other party (e.g. secondary action taken in sympathy), notice of the stoppage must be given in accordance with the rules laid down in collective agreements on notice of industrial action .

7) Number and nature of unlawful stoppages. Traditionally, work stoppages in contravention of a collective agreement have occurred on only a modest scale in Denmark. It is true that during the 1970s most strikes lasted longer and were better organized than had formerly been the case, one reason probably being that collective bargaining was brought under more strongly centralized control and subjected to heavier pressure from the government in order to steer the economy. This left employees with less opportunity to influence their pay and conditions through general negotiation. However, the level of conflict gradually declined again as time passed.

Strike statistics for the private sector (covered by the DA) show that in 1993 there were some 1,200 stoppages, each on average lasting 1.5 days and involving some 60 employees. Approximately two thirds were due to disputes over pay, and a smaller proportion to disputes mainly over other terms and conditions, dismissals and hirings.


Please note: the European industrial relations glossaries were compiled between 1991 and 2003 and are not updated. For current material see the European industrial relations dictionary.
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