Building industry unions cease cooperation with employers’ association

In summer 2003, trade unions in the Danish building industry broke off cooperation with the Association of Employers in the Danish Building Industry because its managing director advised employers in the industry to use cheap labour from central and eastern European countries when they join the EU in May 2004.

A recent statement from the managing director of the Association of Employers in the Danish Building Industry (Dansk Byggeri) has angered trade unions represented in the building industry, the General Workers' Union (Specialarbejderforbundet i Danmark, SiD) and the Union of Wood, Industrial and Building Workers (Forbundet Træ-Industri-Byg, TIB). He stated that it would be a sign of bad management and leadership if Danish building industry employers did not take advantage of the opportunity to employ workers from Poland and the Baltic states after they join the European Union in 1 May 2004. Such workers could be hired at the lowest wage laid down in the relevant collective agreement without any difficulty. Normally Danish workers are paid close to the double the sector's minimum wage of DKK 94 per hour because of local agreements and acquired bonus entitlements. Hiring a central or eastern European worker on the lowest possible wage might breach the spirit of the wage development agreed in collective bargaining, but would not be against any collectively agreed or legislative provision. The employers also state that Danish workers on a building site will not be able to demand that new recruits from eastern Europe be paid at the same rate as them.

The president of the trade union cartel for building and construction (Bygnings-, Anlægs, and Trækartellet, BAT) said that he was very surprised and angry about the statement, which he sees as undermining the existing cooperation between the employers’ organisation and unions. He claimed that the statement was a provocation which advised against applying against the valid agreements concluded at the bargaining table and even invited employers to employ unorganised labour. The unions stated that Dansk Byggeri apparently wants to break the 'ethical rule' that members of the employers' association should be loyal to agreements and good practice in Danish society. The unions have immediately ceased all cooperation with Dansk Byggeri, including two conferences called on the 'Day of the Danish building industry', and have also threatened to take industrial action at workplaces if central and eastern Europeans are employed to work there in great numbers for a wage much lower than that of their Danish colleagues.

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