More time off and occupational pensions are main themes in bargaining

In mid-January, Denmark's 2000 bargaining round in the area covered by the DA employers' confederation and LO trade union confederation was proceeding quietly, with more time off and occupational pensions the main themes. The unions' demands for a sixth week of annual leave does not seem to have alarmed employers, which have not stated any specific demands of their own, but rather expectations of a longer duration of collective agreements and more company-level working time flexibility. The industry sector has once again taken the leading role and has set 10 February as the deadline for an agreement.

The spring 2000 Danish collective bargaining round (DK9912160F) is proceeding quietly at present. More time off for workers and regulation of occupational pensions are the main issues, and the subject of pay increases has not yet been broached. Except for the minority of "standard-wage" bargaining units, such as transport, where sectoral agreements set actual pay and there are no decentralised wage negotiations, all the other bargaining units will enter a round of decentralised pay bargaining after the conclusion of the sectoral agreements. Even though sectoral bargaining in these "minimum-wage" areas will give an idea of the role that pay will play in the local agreements, there are no guarantees.

A survey conducted by Statistics Denmark (Danmarks Statistik) and published on 11 January 2000 shows that the Danish unemployment rate, at 4.8%, is at its lowest level in 24 years. At the same time, new wages statistics from the Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) show that wage growth is declining, having fallen to 3.9% in the year to the third quarter of 1999. The president of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO), Hans Jensen, has stated that the low unemployment rate should not be used in the present collective bargaining to put upward pressure on pay. "Appetite does not increase during a meal," Mr Jensen said, emphasising that it has been agreed during the past six months that time off and pensions are the key demands in the 2000 collective agreement renewals. However, despite the LO president's exhortations. it can by no means be ruled out that the latest unemployment and pay figures might produce some bolder demands from employees in future local negotiations. For instance, the unemployment rate among electricians is only 1.8% and this situation has not fed into higher pay increases so far.

Employers have not made any concrete demands during bargaining so far, but it seems clear that any award of a sixth week of paid annual leave - or rather five extra days off - will result in a longer duration of collective agreements, thus favouring a calmer atmosphere in the labour market to the benefit of the employers. The employers will also emphasise their wish for enterprise-level working time flexibility during bargaining. LO-affiliated unions show no signs of opposing longer terms for collective agreements - if anything the contrary. Only in the transport sector does the General Workers' Union (Specialarbejderforbundet i Danmark, SiD) want to keep a two-year agreement, unless it can achieve new pay provisions which the employers have so far rejected . Transport is a standard-wage area without decentralised pay negotiations, and it is feared that a longer duration for the collective agreement could undermine improvements in pay. Standard-wage arrangements apply in only 15% of the bargaining area covered by DA.

Even though it had been announced that bargaining in other areas might result in rapid agreements, it is the industry sector that is again taking the leading position in the 2000 bargaining round, setting 10 February as the deadline for an agreement. This is mainly due to the consensus within the DA area that export-oriented sectors are of greatest importance. Accordingly, the ambitions of the Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees (Handels- og Kontorfunktionærernes Forbund, HK) to reach an agreement before Christmas 1999 were frustrated (DK9912158N). It also appears that the commerce and services sector stepped back from this idea because of difficult bargaining within the retail area, influenced by an expected forthcoming change to the Shops Act that will provide for the possibility of Sunday opening. Furthermore, the members of HK/Commercial have not yet received any of the extra days off awarded in other sectors as part of the general 1998 settlement (DK9805168F), because they are covered by a three-year agreement signed in 1997. Consequently, the union has a great deal to achieve in terms of annual leave, pay and pensions before 10 February, which is the deadline this sector has also set for itself to conclude a new deal. The bargaining parties in the commerce area still believe, however, that they will sign an agreement on the same day as the industry sector - or "half an hour later", as the leading negotiators express it.

Bargaining was well under way in all areas by mid-January. The leading negotiators in the largest sectors in the LO/DA area - industry, building and construction, commerce and services, and transport - are negoatiating collective agreements for more then 600,000 employees (including 200,000 in industry). Overall there are several hundred agreements which have to be renewed in 2000. Many of them are so-called "adoption agreements", whereby smaller bargaining units accept the agreements that have been concluded in the main areas.

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