Denmark: Latest working life developments – Q2 2016
The debate on EU membership sparked by the Brexit referendum, the current state of tripartite negotiations on the integration of refugees and an occupational health and safety case at Siemens Wind Power are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Denmark in the second quarter of 2016.
The Brexit debate
Media focus at present is, as in many other countries, on the Brexit referendum. Denmark has voted ‘No’ several times in different referenda to further EU integration, the last being in November 2015 when the Danish population voted to maintain the rights exception. Some voices in the debate are calling for a ‘stay’ or ‘leave’ referendum like in the UK. This, currently, does not seem realistic, but the debate continues.
Denmark’s second largest political party, the Danish People’s Party (DPP), has stated that if it is to join a coalition government a referendum on EU membership must take place. At present, three parties in the parliament are opposed to the EU – to some extent – and the governing Liberal Party (Venstre) has stated that further integration is not the way to make a stronger EU. However, there is still a broad majority in parliament in favour of staying in the EU.
The social partners have a positive approach to EU membership and social partners from both sides of the table campaigned for a removal of the Danish rights exception in last November’s referendum. Their key argument was that the EU secures Danish jobs and a high level of exports.
The tripartite negotiations that began in February between the Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA) and the government about how to effectively integrate the growing number of refugees from the Middle East had their first output in March when the framework for a new integration process was laid out. The agreement has been made law through two different pieces of legislation. The first piece regulates a new integration education programme, which is a training scheme for newly arrived refugees and their families. The law states that refugees can work in the scheme for two years on an apprentice salary level, which is lower than the minimum wage decided by the social partners. The refugee will receive 20 weeks of Danish language lessons in the two years, with work, training and Danish lessons occupying up to 37 hours per week. The second piece of legislation regulates the new tasks for municipalities in the integration process.
Next on the agenda in the tripartite dialogue are how to secure more ordinary traineeships for vocational education and how to secure a supply of qualified labour for businesses. There are three themes to be discussed:
- coping with recruitment challenges;
- traineeships and internships to produce more skilled workers;
- continued education.
The tripartite negotiations take place behind closed doors and away from the public. No news is expected from them until an agreement has been reached.
The Siemens case
In May, it was confirmed that at least 64 cases of occupational disease had been confirmed at Siemens Wind Power in the last 10 years – a workplace previously awarded for its excellence in occupational health and safety efforts.
The findings sparked a big debate on how to control businesses’ working environment, with social partners holding public discussions about the case. The Minister of Employment has called on the social partners and the parliamentary parties to discuss the challenges and solutions to a situation that made it possible for this workplace to have such a dangerous working environment. The trade unions hope that in the future the authorities will impose a greater level of control and have called for more resources to be given to the effort. While the employers believe that better organisation by the authorities and more effective use of existing resources is what is required.
New name for the National Board of Industrial Injuries
Labour Market Insurance (Arbejdsmarkedets Erhvervssikring – AES) was established on 1 July 2016 and is a merger of the previous National Board of Industrial Injuries (Arbejdsskadestyrelsen) and parts of the previous Labour Market Occupational Diseases Fund (Arbejdsmarkedets Erhvervssygdomssikring).