Little support for abolition of nurses' right to strike

In October 1999, the labour affairs spokesperson of Denmark's Christian People's Party proposed abolishing the right to strike of some health sector workers, notably nurses. The proposal, based on a view that parliamentary intervention to end recent nurses' strikes effectively meant that they had lost their right to strike anyway, did not receive parliamentary support.

On 14 October 1999, during a debate in the Danish parliament (Folketinget), the Minister of Labour, Ove Hygum, was asked the following question by the labour affairs spokesperson of the Christian People's Party (Kristeligt Folkeparti) Ole M Nielsen: "What initiatives will the government take in order to limit or avoid the use of collective industrial action within areas of social importance in the health sector, and simultaneously secure the rights of the employees to a necessary extent?" Mr Hygum answered: "None".

The basis for Mr Nielsen's enquiry is a view that parliament's intervention to end disputes involving nurses in both 1995 and 1999 (DK9905126N) has made it clear that nurses have in reality lost their right to strike. Consequently, he believes that a new model ought to be drawn up for collective bargaining in the health sector, acknowledging that employees are not allowed to make use of the strike weapon. Mr Nielsen thus presented a proposal for adoption which would oblige the Minister to set up a working group, consisting of health sector employees and employers, central administration officials and independents experts, with the task of drawing up solutions for how disputes in the sector are to be avoided or limited. Mr Nielsen made no propositions of his own on this point.

Only the right-wing Danish People's Party was willing to support the proposal, which thus failed completely. The general consensus was that parliament should avoid any attempt to lay down rules for Danish industrial relations, with various parties claiming that such interference would in the long term cause the death of the "Danish model". The right to strike and take collective industrial action are closely related to the right to collective bargaining and cannot be discussed in isolation thereof, said Mr Hygum, even though he admitted that disputes in the health sector are closely monitored by the government. He added that, if the parties cannot come to an agreement, it is the government's responsibility to safeguard the population's safety and health.

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