Health unions to leave municipal bargaining unit

In November 2003, all but one of the health workers' trade unions belonging to the 'Health Cartel' announced that they are to leave KTO, the umbrella body which represents employees in the Danish municipal and county sector in collective bargaining. This will remove nearly 100,000 workers, notably including nurses, from KTO's membership. The unions in the Health Cartel now wish to conduct direct negotiations with municipal/county employers.

In mid-November 2003, all the trade unions represented in the 'Health Cartel' (Sundhedskartellet) in the municipal/county sector - with the exception of the social workers' union - decided to leave the Association of Local Government Employees' Organisations (Kommunale Tjenestemænd og Overenskomstansatte, KTO) at the expiry of present collective agreements in 2005. KTO represents unions in in the municipal/county sector (DK0111128F), the largest bargaining unit in the public sector, and has hitherto negotiated agreements for about 650,000 employees. The decision of the Health Cartel unions to leave KTO will mean a break-up of this bargaining unit.

The Health Cartel - in which the Danish Nurses’ Organisation (Dansk Sygeplejeråd, DSR) is the largest trade union - represents nearly 100,000 municipal/county employees. According to the president of both DSR and the Health Cartel, Connie Kruckow, the decision to leave KTO is mainly due to the rigid framework the latter sets for collective bargaining. Too few issues are delegated to the individual unions and, instead of fighting with the other unions over the distribution of the KTO bargaining results, the Health Cartel now prefers to negotiate directly with the employers, says Ms Kruchow.

In the KTO bargaining unit, most issues, including wage increases, are negotiated at central level for all 64 unions. Furthermore, the rules on ballots in the individual unions on acceptance or rejection of agreements reached by KTO are construed in such a way that the members of a particular union may very well vote 'no' to the agreement, but still have it forced on them. In the most recent bargaining round in the KTO area in 2002, the agreement reach was approved by a very narrow majority, with 51.9% of the combined membership of all the unions (DK0205102F) voting 'yes'. Members of both the nurses' and teachers' unions voted heavily against the new collective agreement, but due to the KTO voting rules, the two unions nevertheless had to accept the deal. This led to considerable discussion about the future of KTO and the KTO bargaining committee has for some time been debating how the next bargaining round in 2005 is to be organised.

This debate has resulted in an outline for a new framework for the bargaining process, but according to DSR this framework does not represent significant change. It is planned that when the Health Cartel bargains separately, all 11 unions involved will put off signing agreements until they have all obtained a satisfactory deal. This should put the maximum pressure on the employers to reach a compromise all the way through the negotiations.

The decision by DSR to leave KTO is due to be confirmed at an extraordinary congress in December 2003, and the relevant bodies of the other unions in the Health Cartel will also have to approve their decisions. The president of the Cartel, Ms Kruchow. believes that all unions involved will approve the move. She argues that, bargaining alone, the Health Cartel will be able to achieve a result which means more money in the pay packets of its members.

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