EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Denmark: Latest working life developments – Q3 2017

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The creation of an expert group to rethink health and safety strategy, a new tool for inspecting the psychosocial working environment, and a report about the extent of atypical employment are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Denmark in the third quarter of 2017.

Policy review of occupational health and safety strategy

As a response to negative developments about the strategy for occupational health and safety, in July 2017 the government appointed an expert commission to carry out a policy review. Recent data from the National Research Centre for The Working Environment have shown an increase in the number of workers with mental stress and musculoskeletal diseases. The new commission comprises of representatives from the social partners and working environment experts, and will draw up recommendations based on an analysis of five aspects:

  • challenges for occupational health and safety;
  • effective methods for ensuring occupational health and safety at work;
  • organisation of the occupational health and safety system;
  • simplification and enforcement of rules;
  • the complaints procedure for the occupational health and safety system.

The commission will also study the recent financing of the occupational health and safety strategy. The recommendations will be presented in the summer of 2018. Further information is available from the European Commission’s Flash Reports on Labour Law (PDF).

New inspection tools for psychosocial working environment

In August 2017, the government introduced changes to labour inspection in the psychosocial working environment. The adjustments were forced through by the government after the social partners were unable to agree on how to change the existing set-up. The main changes are:

  • inspectors will have the right to talk to employees individually;
  • inspectors can make judgements about offensive actions if they are considered to be a threat to the health and safety of the employees;
  • the Working Environment Authority will publish a manual on how to prevent offensive behaviour in workplaces.

The social partners say they have taken note of the regulation, but state that they are still backing the recommendations in the White Paper on Labour Inspections (1995).

Employee participation in company boards still low

In 1974, Danish employees were given the right to elect members of a company board if the company had more than 35 employees. However, new research shows that the number of employee-elected board members has not increased significantly since then. The latest data, from 2012, show that only one in four of the companies affected by the act on employee-elected board members make use of this right. In total, more than a 250,000 employees in some of the largest companies in Denmark are not represented on their company’s board, despite being entitled to.

Trade unions are dissatisfied with this development. The President of the influential Central Organisation of Industrial Employees in Denmark (CO-industri), Claus Jensen, points at the significant difference between employees being informed by management in the cooperation committee or by a shop steward, and actually taking part in decision-making on a company board.

New report about atypical jobs

The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) published a new report (PDF) about how the extent of atypical (precarious) employment in Denmark has developed the last two decades, and how the opportunities and rights in different types of employment have also developed.

The report shows a number of differences between an atypical employee (defined as a person on a part-time or temporary contract, or who is self-employed without employees – ‘solo-employed’) and normal employment conditions (defined as full-time open-ended contracts). The report, by Professor Steen Scheuer on behalf of LO, has several findings.

  • The share of temporary employment was stable at around 8% of the aggregate employment between 2000 and 2015. In the same period, the share of part-time workers has increased from 20% to 25%.
  • Fewer atypical employees join a union or an unemployment benefit fund and much fewer have a shop steward.
  • Atypical employees have a significantly higher risk of having no rights to a wage during sickness, a child’s sickness or maternity.
  • Atypical employees are at greater risk of being unemployed.
  • Fewer have a labour market pension than those on full-time contracts, and fewer also think that they have sufficient private pension savings.
  • Fewer atypical employees than full-time ones are offered continuing education courses.

Commentary

It could be added to the study on atypical employment that other recent research confirms atypical work is increasing, especially in the industrial cleaning, hotel and restaurant, and retail sectors. Low weekly working hours (less than 15 hours) is the rule rather than the exception. This means that the aforementioned sectors are increasingly isolated from the protection that the Danish model of regulating the labour market offers through collective bargaining. Furthermore, the consequence in many cases is that the employees have to take on a second job to ensure a ‘living wage’.

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