Employers opt out of the Danish health and safety system

As a reaction to the new Work Environment Act, which they view as "unacceptable centralism and bureaucracy", employers decided in June 1997 to "opt out" of Denmark's tripartite health and safety system

The new and amended Work Environment Act adopted on 30 May 1997 has infuriated theDanish Employers' Confederation (DA). The DA had criticised the Minister of Labour,Jytte Andersen during the preparatory process (DK9705111N), accusing her of ignoring the views of the social partners and attacking the perceived hastiness of the process. It stated that: "Ms Andersen's solitary approach will unavoidably create problems for tripartite cooperation, which so far has been the modus operandi of the health and safety system in Denmark". TheDanish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) is in agreement with the DA, stating that the process has been contrary to past practice and characterised by secretiveness. Normally the Minister would establish a tripartite committee, which would then propose action.

On 11 June 1997, DA decided to opt out of the Work Environment Council (Arbejdsmiljøråd) and the new Branch Work Environment Council (Branchearbejdsmiljøråd), and hence the implementation of the new Act. In a letter to Minister Andersen, DA gave the following reasons:

  • the proposed governmental control of a matter which had previously been the prerogative of the social partners represents a radical departure from the principles of past practice, which regulated the relationship between the government and the social partners;
  • the Act introduces more bureaucracy and a hierarchical policy and operating system, which in reality threatens the autonomy of the social partners; and
  • the Act dismantles the previous tripartite cooperation system which, in accordance with the traditions of the "Danish Model", have been based on cooperation between three parties - each respecting each other's autonomy.

The president of the DA,Mr Fog, underlined that this radical decision had been taken with extreme reluctance. However, the DA believed that there was no other option, stating that "if we had accepted the Minister's proposed model we would have lost our legitimacy and trustworthiness in the eyes of our affiliated companies. However, the DA will continue to work for a safer and healthier work environment, through other forms of cooperation."

Although talks on the amendments to the Work Environment Act had been taking place since May 1996, it was the release of figures on the number of industrial injuries in April 1997 which fuelled the debate which led to the decision to legislate. According to the report Reported industrial injuries in the building and construction sector, 1993-1995, from theLabour Inspectorate, this sector experienced a 22% increase in industrial accidents over the course of 1993-1995 (DK9704107F).

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