New agreement signed on psychological working environment

In October 2001, the Danish Working Environment Authority concluded an agreement with the DA employers' confederation and LO trade union confederation, amending an earlier administrative Order issued by the Ministry of Labour which authorises the Authority to intervene in areas relating to the 'psychological' working environment, such as bullying and harassment. Under the new accord, local agreements may be concluded which provide that bullying and harassment are internal matters to be dealt with by employers and employees within companies, thus excluding the Working Environment Authority. The FTF white-collar union confederation would have preferred to keep the Authority as an impartial third party in this type of case.

In May 2001, the Minister of Labour and the social partners concluded an agreement on the 'psychological working environment' within the framework of the Working Environment Council (Arbejdsmiljørådet), which gave the Working Environment Authority (Arbejdstilsynet) the scope to intervene in cases concerning bullying and harassment in enterprises (DK0107128F). The Minister thus issued an administrative Order which authorises the Authority to supervise the mental as well as physical aspects of safety and health at work.

This decision was taken without involvement of the main sectoral trade union and employers' organisations, and this gave rise to considerable turmoil as these matters are normally regulated exclusively by the social partners. At the same time, the social partners in the industry sector concluded their own collective agreement on the psychological working environment, prioritising internal handling of matters such as bullying and harassment and thus bypassing the Working Environment Authority (DK0106124F).

Furthermore, a new cooperation agreement between the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) and the Danish Confederation of Employers' Associations in Agriculture (Sammenslutningen af arbejdsgivere i landbruget, SALA), signed in August 2001, also laid down joint rules for the psychosocial working environment and this placed the issue firmly on top of the agenda (DK0109133N).

In October 2001, the Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA), LO and the Working Environment Authority concluded a new agreement concerning the recent administrative Order on the performance of work, which covers bullying and harassment. The parties agree that it shall be possible for employees and employers to conclude a local agreement which provides that bullying and harassment are internal company affairs. If such an agreement exists, it will not be possible to call in the Working Environment Authority in such cases. Such local agreements thus supersede the original agreement concerning the competence of the Working Environment Authority.

The social partners are very satisfied with this agreement, and industrial relations researchers support the organisations in the view that it is a major breakthrough for the use of agreements as an alternative to legislation, and that workplace problems are better solved through the industrial relations system than through legislation. The number of cases which arise concerning bullying and harassment in the future will be a decisive and significant measure of the ability of the social partners to shoulder this task.

The agreement has been submitted to the Minister of Labour in spite of protests from the main white-collar union organisation, the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants in Denmark (Funktionærernes og Tjenestemændenes Fællesråd, FTF), which fears that individual members will risk being left without proper safeguarding of their interests. FTF would find it more reassuring to have a more neutral third party intervene in this very sensitive type of case. Local agreements are fine, but in cases where agreements are not observed and the problems are ignored, it should be possible to call in the Working Environment Authority, argues FTF.

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