New Act on part-time work adopted after lengthy debate
In June 2002, after months of debate, the new Liberal-Conservative government's amended Act on part-time work was passed in the Danish parliament. The new legislation seeks to make access to part-time work easier, by means including the controversial abolition of restrictions on the use of part-time work laid down in collective agreements. During the parliamentary process, the Minister for Employment made concessions and changed the text of the proposal, but trade unions remain opposed.
Immediately after coming to office in November 2001, the coalition government of the Liberal Party (Venstre) and Conservative People's Party (Konservative Folkeparti) presented a set of employment-related measures, referred to in the government's programme as 'the freedom package for the labour market' (DK0112147F). Thus included a bill amending the current Act on part-time work, with the aim of increasing access to this form of work for employees. The proposal stated that: 'An employee and an employer shall have the right to conclude an agreement on part-time work for the employee. Any direct or indirect obstacle to or restriction in this right, for instance by virtue of collective agreement, custom or practice, shall be void.'
The Minister for Employment called the proposal 'just a small bill which will make it easier for employees to work part time'. However, this apparent assumption that the amendments would be straightforward proved to be wrong. As the new measure sets aside existing collective agreements on part-time work and thus intervenes in the right to collective bargaining, the social partners - and in particular the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) - and many enterprises were negative towards the initiative. The Minister for Employment had to amend the proposal, changing the provision in the bill whereby, if an employee was dismissed after a request from the employer to work part time, it was incumbent upon the employee to prove that the two events were linked and thus unfair.
The bill was tabled on 20 February 2002 (DK0202102N) and was the subject of long debates during its first and second readings in parliament (Folketing). Numerous issues were raised during question time and the Parliamentary Labour Market Committee (Arbejdsmarkedsudvalget) asked 250 questions – many of them inspired by the nearly 90 representations which appeared before the Committee. There was a public hearing and the Minister was twice summoned for open joint consultations. During the third parliamentary reading on 4 June 2002, the validity of the bill and the correct drafting of the text were questioned, including its relationship to the Salaried Employees Act (Funktionærloven) and the role of employee representatives in connection with negotiations over part-time work. The bill was finally adopted after a debate which went on for four hours.
At the 11th hour, the Minister came up with a proposal to the social partners to the effect that the new Act would not take precedence over collective agreements if the social partners guaranteed that they would provide for easier access to part-time work in the next renewal of most collective agreements in 2004. It had been claimed in some quarters before this stage that the original bill was merely ideological, as the social partners had already agreed to promote access to part-time work in the next collective bargaining round. In practice, the bill was therefore seen as superfluous. The Minister's last-minute proposal was close to being a victory for the social partners. Nevertheless, LO upheld its opposition, as the Minister insisted that collective agreements should, as a minimum, include the provisions of the Act - with the result, according to the unions, there is nothing left for the parties to negotiate freely. LO thus believed that the Minister's proposed concession made no difference. LO also considers that the new Act does not offer employees sufficient protection.