ILO criticises government over new part-time work legislation

In March 2003, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) stated that the Danish government’s recent part-time work legislation, which intervenes in provisions on this issue in collective agreements, is in violation of ILO Conventions. The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association recommends that the government should resume consultations with the social partners. The Minister for Employment is prepared to follow the recommendation.

In February 2002, the coalition government of the Liberal Party (Venstre) and Conservative People's Party (Konservative Folkeparti) tabled a bill aimed at making access to part-time work easier (DK0202102N). One of the measures to achieve this aim was to render void any provisions in collective agreements which present a direct or indirect obstacle to the right to work part time, or place a restriction on this right. Such an intervention in existing collective agreements is highly unusual in Denmark. It is only on very rare occasions that the government or parliament intervenes in matters concerning the labour market and industrial relations, and it is usually left to the social partners to regulate such matters through collective bargaining. The new part-time work law was adopted in June 2002 (DK0206102N).

Following the presentation of the bill on part-time work, the three main trade union confederations - the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO), the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants (Funktionæerne og Tjenestemændenes Fællesråd, FTF) and the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (Akademikernes Centralorganisation, AC) - submitted a complaint to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association. In the complaint, the confederations claimed that: 'the proposed act intervenes in hundreds of collective agreements and in our opinion it is in obvious contravention of the ILO Conventions (No. 87) concerning freedom of association and protection of the right to organise, which was ratified by Denmark in 1951, and Convention (No. 98) concerning the application of the principles of the right to organise and to bargain collectively, which was ratified by Denmark in 1955 … We would therefore, as soon as possible, like to receive a legal evaluation of the relationship between the proposed act and Denmark’s obligations according to ratified ILO Conventions.'

After the Danish government had replied to a number of questions concerning the case, the Committee on Freedom of Association came to its conclusions, which were included in its report adopted by the ILO Governing Body in late March 2003. The Committee observes that employers' organisations were also against the proposed legislation, and finds that it would have been preferable if the Danish government had first tried to reach an agreement with the social partners before it found it necessary to change a system which has proved to have broad support among both employers’ and workers’ organisations. The Committee therefore recommends the following: 'In the light of the special circumstances of the case, the Committee recommends the Danish government to resume thorough consultations concerning matters about part-time work with all parties concerned with a view to obtaining a negotiated solution which will be acceptable to all parties and which will not be in violation of the ILO Conventions on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining which have been ratified by Denmark. It is further recommended that the Danish government keeps the Committee informed about developments in this case.'

At a subsequent meeting with the parliamentary Labour Market Committee (Arbejdsmarkedsudvalget), the Minister for Employment denied that the criticism of the part-time work law expressed by the ILO was justified. However, he emphasised that he would, nevertheless, be prepared to comply with the recommendation about new negotiations, if the social partners are able through collective agreements to ensure individual employees at least the same rights as the law now prescribes. The Minister further declared that a negotiated solution with the social partners would have been preferable, but that the efforts to reach such a solution had met with opposition from LO. Now LO has taken the initiative to have a meeting with the government about this case.

The ILO has no power to impose sanctions in such cases. It is therefore up to the Danish government to ensure that it follows up the recommendations on the part-time work case.

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