Danish Football Players' Union is a success

Around 95% of Danish professional football players are members of the Football Players' Union. Despite the strong element of competition and obvious individual interests connected to this profession, the union is a success. This is the conclusion of a study, published in June 2001, of industrial relations in professional football. According to this analysis, the success of the union is due to its support for both the individual and collective needs of the players. Women professional players have recently been admitted to the union.

According to a new study of industrial relations in Danish professional football, the Danish Football Players' Union (Spillerforeningen) is a successful trade union with a very high membership rate, good contacts with private sponsors and considerable skill in navigating between the individual and collective needs of the players. The study, which is the first of its kind in a sector not often examined in an industrial relations context, was published in June 2001 by Kristian Nielsen of the Department of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen.

The trade union for professional football players, the Football Players' Union, was established in 1977. The union was set up in order to act as a counterpart to the Danish Football Association (Dansk Boldspil Union, DBU) which the players in the national league believed to be arrogant and high-handed. Over the years, the union has had several conflicts with DBU. In 1991, DBU introduced a standard contract which meant a large increase in transfer fees. The Football Players' Union and the clubs' organisation, the Division Association (Divisionsforeningen), joined forces against DBU and the players threatened to strike. The transfer rules were changed and the strike avoided. In 1994, the union entered into a new agreement with DBU about the remuneration of players on the national team, which was preceded by a threat from all the members of the union to boycott the team. The European Court of Justice's 1995 ruling in the famous Bosman case - which found that players were entitled to a free transfer at the end of their contract with a club - was seen as a victory for the Danish trade union which, together with other European players' associations, had supported Jean-Marc Bosman during the proceedings.

In the summer of 1999, the Football Players' Union concluded a collective agreement with the employers, the Division Association. This agreement, which applies to all contract players in Denmark, covers many of the same issues which are included in the agreements found in other occupational fields - such as the duration of the contract, wages, insurance and the settlement of disputes. In addition to this collective agreement, a "basic agreement" with a 10-year duration was subsequently concluded, laying down rules concerning collective bargaining and the resolution of disputes concerning working conditions.

The high membership rate of the Football Players' Union demonstrates its success; about 800 players out of a potential 1,000 are members. If allowance is made for players who are members of other players' associations, for instance the Norwegian players' association, and players who have an occupation in addition to football, the result is that at least 95% of all full-time professional football players in Denmark are members of the union. This gives the Football Players' Union a strong position in connection with its union activities.

Why has a trade union been such a success in this area of employment? According to Kristian Nielsen's analysis, one of the reasons is that it has created an organisation which promotes the collective interests of the players, but also their individual needs, while membership fees are low and the level of services high.

It costs DKK 800 per year to be a member, with the rest of the union's budget coming from sponsorship agreements and brand agreements concluded jointly by the Football Players' Union and the Division Association. Furthermore, the Football Players' Union offers its members individual counselling on financial matters, insurance, banking etc. This service is part of an agreement concluded between the union and a number of firms which are experts in these fields and which the players may freely contact. In addition to the assistance offered by these external experts, the union will also help players in connection with moves between clubs and the negotiation of new contracts. This means that the membership contribution paid by the players is marginal in relation to the assistance and services from which they benefit. According to the study, these services and assistance are the main argument for the players' membership of the union.

A new period of turbulence lies ahead as new, post-Bosman transfer rules have recently been agreed upon between the international and European football authorities - FIFA and UEFA- and the European Union. The players' international organisation, FIFPro, had no influence on these rules which the Danish Football Players' Union also opposes. This means that a dispute can be expected between the Football Players' Union and the Division Association when the collective agreement is to renewed in the course of summer 2001.

Whether the Football Players' Union will win this match is a question which very much depends upon its ability to unite all the players in Denmark. The result of the negotiations will depend upon whether an organisation whose success is very much based upon individual services will be able to rally the players in a collective industrial dispute.

In June 2001, a new chapter was added to the history of the Football Players' Union. During the spring, Denmark's female football players had applied for membership. About 35 women players are on contract at the best Danish women's clubs, and they wanted better consultation about insurance, support when signing contracts and better conditions when playing for the national team. In June, they were admitted to the union.

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