LO proposes life-long working time flexibility

In January 2001, Denmark's LO trade union confederation proposed a life-long working time flexibility scheme, whereby employees could work longer hours in the earlier years of their working life and reduce their hours accordingly in later years (a similar scheme already exists in the state sector). This proposal is seen as an attempt to attract young people to join trade unions, as a recent LO study has shown that this group of workers is turning away from the unions. However, employers are uncertain about the proposal.

The Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) is ready to discuss the inclusion of clauses on flexible working time arrangements in a larger number of collective agreements. It believes that considerations of family life and health should be better combined with individual employees' wishes relating to when and how much they work. LO sees flexibility as more or less a life-long process: young people may easily work up to 50 hours per week - as is typically seen in the information technology sector - and in return it should be possible for them to work fewer hours when they have children and/or become older. It should be possible to deduct the hours saved up during the early part of working life from weekly working time when the need arises. Normal weekly hours should remain at 37.

This is the central idea of a proposal put forward by LO in early January 2001. The innovative proposals on life-long working time flexibility have emerged from an internal LO study (Tendenser i lønmodtagernes faglige organisering) which shows that the number of LO members aged under 30 is continuing to fall gradually. It finds that young people - especially in the information technology sector and particular areas of commerce and services - see trade unions as "dinosaurs". It is thus a major challenge for LO to attract these groups through special collective agreements with a specific appeal to them. The proposed special "extra working hours scheme" aims to satisfy the desire to work of those younger workers who are not concerned with sticking to the current 37-hour week rule. However, contends LO, these people will need a trade union when they want to reduce their working time for various reasons. To cover such cases, the unions must conclude agreements with employers which will make it possible for the workers concerned to reduce their working time.

It may seem to some that this proposal from LO is somewhat premature. LO has been participating in the implementation of the EU Directive (93/104/EC) on certain aspects of the organisation of working time which prescribes a maximum weekly working time of 48 hours (DK0001164F). This provision may be set aside by a voluntary agreement to do so at enterprise level, but not by a collective agreement concluded by LO and the Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforenining, DA). However, even with a maximum weekly hours limit of 48 hours, DA is not entirely enthusiastic about LO's new idea, although a higher degree of flexibility is a matter of top priority for the employers. DA fears that the LO proposal would lead to less work being performed over a working life, and this is certainly not what is needed in a situation with prospects of labour shortages for many years ahead, according to DA.

Flexibility is presently a hot issue on the Danish labour market. In early 2001, collective bargaining rounds have started in agriculture and in the finance sector, and flexibility has top priority, especially in the latter case. The public sector already has a scheme similar to that which has now been proposed by LO. From January 2001, it is possible for employees to save up overtime work in a "time bank", which may later be used for more leisure time. If an employee leaves the public sector to take up employment in the private sector, the hours saved are paid out as wages. A similar scheme could be imagined in the case of moves from one private enterprise to another, if the LO proposal should become a reality.

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