Disagreement on proposed new Danish Work Environment Act

Denmark's social partners believe that their views have been ignored in the drawing up of the new Work Environment Act (debated in Parliament in May 1997). Employers have criticised the Minister of Labour for centralising the health and safety system and not taking account of the long-standing tradition of tripartite decision-making and implementation of the framework legislation.

The high number of industrial injuries, recently reported by the Labour Inspectorate, have fuelled the debate on the new Work Environment Act, which is a part of the Government's action plan Improved work environment year 2005. According to the report on Reported industrial injuries in the building and construction sector, 1993-1995, the sector experienced a 22% increase in industrial injuries over the period in question (DK9704107F).

The proposed amendments to the Work Environment Act, which were debated in Parliament on 7 May 1997, signal that the patience of the Minister of Labour, Jytte Andersen, has run out. She is reported as saying: "It is simply unacceptable that employees die at work, and that society will have to spend millions on hospital bills - the Government is impatient; now that our economy is improving and more jobs are being created we would like to see safer workplaces."

The preparatory process and the content of the proposal has been criticised by the social partners. TheDanish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) finds the process contrary to tradition and characterised by secretiveness. Normally the Minister would establish a tripartite committee, which would propose action. As an LO official,Ms Jacobsen, put it: "apparently they have become so tired of us, in the Ministry, that they do not want to listen to us". The Danish Employers' Confederation (DA) has criticised what it sees as the lack of consultation of the social partners and finds the hasty process totally unacceptable, saying that Minister Andersen's solitary approach will create problems for the system of tripartite cooperation which up to now has been the modus operandi of health and safety in Denmark.

Although the LO, to a larger extent, accepts the proposed increase in political intervention and goal-setting from the Minister of Labour, the DA rejects the proposal saying that it embodies increased centralisation and bureaucracy and places an undue financial burden on companies. Although on several occasions Ms Andersen has acknowledged that the role of the social partners has been diminished, she felt compelled to remind the social partners of who is in charge, saying: "It is my impression, that employers and sometimes the unions perceive tripartite cooperation as two parties playing a role whilst expecting the Government to finance whatever they decide. Well, let me tell you that this is not how the Government sees it. When it is the Government who pays it is only fair that I, as the Minister in charge, put forward demands and issue some political objectives."

Ms Andersen expects that the proposed amendments to the Work Environment Act will be passed before Parliament goes into recess for the summer holiday. Amendments to the Act will come into force in two stages: on 1 January 1998 and 1 January 1999.

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