Minister of Labour opposes legislation on urine tests

In May 2000, the Danish Minister of Labour stated that he was not in favour of legislation over the use of alcohol and drug tests at work, and left it to the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Danish Employers' Confederation (DA) to prepare a set of ethical rules on the issue. There had been trade union calls for such legislation following a recent ruling from an industrial arbitration tribunal that a shipping company was entitled to conduct unannounced urine tests on its employees to check, for safety reasons, whether there were any traces of intoxicants.

On 23 February 2000, an industrial arbitration tribunal held that the Danish passenger shipping line Danish Seaways (DFDS) was entitled to conduct unannounced urine tests on crew members to detect any use of intoxicants. The action was brought by the Danish Association of Maritime Catering Establishments (Dansk Sø-Restaurations Forening, DSRF) and the Danish Confederation of the Catering Trade (RestaurationsBranchens Forbund, RBF) against Danish Seaways, as the two trade unions felt that the shipping company's regulations on participation in tests for alcohol, drugs and other intoxicants had been issued unjustly. This was a test case, as there was no previous ruling on whether an employer may order employees to participate in such unannounced tests.

During the case, the two unions claimed that the regulations did not meet the requirements that such tests be introduced for operational and safety reasons, which DFDS, for its part, had claimed was the reason for the regulations. However, the unions felt that the regulations were an infringement of the rights of the employees and imposed restrictions on their private life. The urine test used can only reveal traces of intoxicants and not when the intoxicant was ingested.

The arbitrator held in the award that the management was entitled to lay down regulatory provisions if these are based on operational considerations and that such operational considerations had been documented in this case. To the chagrin of the unions, he also attached importance to seeing all crew members as forming part of the safety crew and held that it is essential that all employees are able to perform their safety function at any given time. The arbitrator did not distinguish between ship's masters, engineers and catering staff in this connection.

The case immediately generated attention because, for obvious reasons, the ruling could inspire similar tests in the air transport industry, Danish State Railways (De Danske Statsbaner, DSB) and the health service.

Following the ruling, the Minister of Labour, Ove Hygum, first convened a meeting with the central organisations to which RBF and DSRF are affiliated - the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) and the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants in Denmark (Funktionærerne og Tjenestemændenes Fællesråd, FTF) respectively - for a briefing, and shortly afterwards held a meeting with the Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) and the Danish Shipowners' Association (Danmarks Rederiforening). The Minister regarded it as very important that the issues were discussed, as he felt it would be very unfortunate to end up in a situation "in which we are to provide a urine sample in the morning before we go to work".

FTF wanted firm legislation in this area to provide employees with some minimum rules, so that it could be determined which employees form part of the safety standby arrangements. FTF was also concerned that employers could be tempted to use the samples to test for pregnancy and possible diseases.

On the basis of the meetings, however, the Minister of Labour stated in a letter of 2 May 2000 to the Labour Market Committee of the Danish parliament (Folketing) that he does not find "that the matter should give rise to legislative initiatives", but "that the social partners should together prepare a set of ethical rules on the use of such tests".

The Minister of Labour has now received a commitment from LO and DA that they will try to reach an agreement, and the two organisations state that they are pleased that the Minister of Labour has left it to them to find a solution. The parties have set up a joint committee which is to examine the current practice for the use of monitoring measures and will subsequently lay down some guidelines for this issue.

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment