Thematic feature - unskilled workers

This article gives a brief overview of the industrial relations aspects of the topic of unskilled workers and unskilled work in Denmark, as of February 2005. It looks at: national definitions of unskilled workers or work; the number of unskilled workers and workers in unskilled jobs, and the extent of unskilled work; employment and unemployment among unskilled workers; the regulatory framework; trade union organisation among unskilled workers; pay and conditions; recent initiatives to improve the situation of unskilled workers; and the views of trade unions and employers' organisations on the issue and its implications for collective bargaining.

In recent years, labour market developments have altered the demand for labour. Increasingly, employers are looking for adaptable workers, with more 'transversal' and 'relational' competences. The nature of skills required to be considered efficient in a job has thus evolved. In this situation, there is a growing risk of exclusion among unemployed workers whose profiles do not match the job characteristics needed, while the low-skilled or unskilled workforce is more at risk of unemployment.

In this context, in February 2005 the EIRO national centres were asked, in response to a questionnaire, to give a brief overview of the industrial relations aspects of the topic of unskilled workers. The following distinctions are used, where applicable:

(a) an unskilled job is a job which requires, for its proper execution, hardly any formal education and/or training and/or experience;

(b) a worker in an unskilled job is a worker doing such a job, irrespective of their level of qualifications or competences (especially under conditions of high unemployment, a significant share of those occupying unskilled jobs may be 'overeducated' for them, or 'underemployed'); and

(c) an unskilled worker is someone who has only the lowest level of qualifications or education (however defined).

The questionnaire examined: national definitions of unskilled workers or work, including those used or provided in laws, statistics or collective agreements; figures or estimates on the number of unskilled workers and workers in unskilled jobs, and the extent of unskilled work; employment and unemployment among unskilled workers; the regulatory framework, including any specific laws or collective agreements, and trade union organisation among unskilled workers; the pay and conditions of unskilled workers and workers in unskilled jobs, or for unskilled jobs; any recent initiatives to improve the situation of unskilled workers; and the views of trade unions and employers' organisations on the issue and its implications for collective bargaining. The Danish responses are set out below (along with the questions asked).

Definitions and extent

(a) Please provide a definition of unskilled workers or work (see distinctions above) in your country. Are there any definitions provided in laws, statistics or collective agreements?

No definitions are provided by law. In collective agreements, unskilled or general (blue-collar) workers may be distinguished from clerical or salaried employees (white-collar worker). The former may include unskilled work within transport, handling, private security, agriculture, or monitoring of processes or stationary machines. In collective agreements, skilled workers are regarded as those with a formal vocational education, such as bricklayers or carpenters. Official statistics use a definition of 'wage earners in a job that presupposes skills at basic level' and not the term 'unskilled'. As well as blue-collar workers, the category of 'wage earners in a job that presupposes skills at basic level' includes white-collar workers at basic level - certain clerical workers and workers in personal services (retail).

(b) Are there any figures or estimates available on the number of unskilled workers and workers in unskilled jobs, and the extent of unskilled work. How have these figures changed in recent years - have changing skill needs or improvements in education/training systems led to a reduction in the numbers of unskilled jobs, unskilled workers and workers in unskilled jobs? Please break all figures down by gender where possible.

As indicated in table 1 below, the number of workers with only a basic skill level is falling. This is mainly due to changes in educational levels, and is also illustrated by the fact that the trade union confederation for blue-collar workers, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO), is losing members while the white-collar Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants (Funktionærernes og Tjenestemændenes Fællesråd, FTF) and the Confederation of Professional Associations (Akademikernes Centralorganisation, AC), organising workers with an academic education, are experiencing rising membership.

A recent study by the Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening) (see below) found that 44% of all people between 15-64 years have no special qualifications besides primary and secondary schooling.

Table 1. Number of wage earners with basic skill level, 1999-2003
. 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999
Men 554,178 565,585 573,344 615,375 619,567
Women 536,087 548,900 553,058 577,298 567,150

Source: Statistics Denmark.

(c) Please provide figures on employment and unemployment rates for unskilled workers, compared with higher-skilled groups. Have unskilled workers/workers in unskilled jobs been particularly affected by industrial and company restructuring? Have new jobs created in recent years been filled by unskilled workers? Please break all figures down by gender where possible.

Unemployment rates differ between unskilled and skilled workers. Table 2 below gives the proportion of those insured with various trade union-linked unemployment insurance funds who were unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2004. The rate stood at 5.5% for the salaried employees/white-collar workers in FTF and 7.7% for those in the Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees in Denmark (Handels og Kontorfunktionærernes Forbund, HK). The rate for unskilled workers organised in the General Workers' Union in Denmark (Specialarbejderforbundet i Danmark, SiD) was 10.8% and for members of the National Union of Female Workers (Kvindeligt Arbejderforbund, KAD) (women only) 12.4%. The figures indicate that the unemployment rate is higher among unskilled workers than among skilled workers and also higher among women than men. There are some problems in using this calculation method - notably, not all members of SiD are unskilled, with a small number being skilled workers. This should not, however, alter the overall picture.

Table 2. Unemployment rates, by trade union affiliation, 4th quarter 2004
. Total Men Women
White-collar, FTF 5.5% 5.1% 5.8%
White-collar, HK 7.7% 7.7% 7.7%
Metalworkers 6.5% 6.4% 8.6%
Teachers 3.9% 3.6% 4.1%
Engineers 5.2% 5.0% 6.3%
General workers (SiD) 10.8% 9.8% 16.1%
Female workers (KAD) . . 12.4%

A recent special analysis conducted by DA, based on figures from Statistics Denmark, found that three out of four unskilled workers had been in permanent employment for the last six years (concerning the groups aged 30-39 and 40-49 years).

Unskilled workers in Denmark have been particularly affected by industrial and company restructuring (see below). Mass redundancies due to relocations and closures have mainly taken place in industries (eg electronics and food) employing mostly unskilled workers. Figures on job creation are not available. However, the Danish labour market's flexible 'hiring and firing' rules generally make it possible to find new jobs for unskilled workers in case of redundancy.

Regulation and conditions

(a) Is there a specific regulatory framework in your country concerning unskilled workers and workers in unskilled jobs (however defined)? Are there specific laws or collective agreements? Are there specific trade union organisations for them, or are they represented in 'normal' union structures. Have there been any changes in these area reflecting the changes referred to in question (b) under 'Definitions and extent' above?

Unskilled workers - defined as workers performing unskilled blue-collar work (with an educational no higher than secondary) - were formerly organised in SiD and KAD. With effect from 1 January 2005, the two unions merged to become the United Federation of Danish Workers (Fagligt Fælles Forbund, 3F) (DK0410103N). 3F is the largest union in Denmark with close to 370,000 members, of whom 125,000 are women. 3F organises unskilled workers within industry, building and construction, services, agriculture and the public sector. 3F also organise certain skilled workers, mostly crafts workers.

In so far as the two former unions, and now 3F, sign collective agreements on behalf of their members, a specific regulatory framework exists for unskilled workers. There is, however, no specific legislation covering this category.

(b) Please provide any figures available for the pay of unskilled workers and workers in unskilled jobs, or for unskilled jobs, and the relationship of this pay with the average or with higher-skilled groups. Do collective agreements contain specific pay grades for unskilled workers, or workers in unskilled jobs? Please break all figures down by gender where possible.

The trend-setting collective agreement in Denmark is that for the whole of industry. This is a framework agreement providing a minimum wage increase, with further pay negotiations at sector and at company level. These collective agreements contain specific pay grades for unskilled workers and workers in unskilled jobs. In Denmark, collective agreements are not registered officially, and no formal pay statistics are produced as such.

(c) Are there any differences between unskilled workers/workers in unskilled jobs and higher-skilled groups in terms of access to other benefits, social security, pensions, etc? Please break all figures down by gender where possible.

Unskilled workers have the same access as other workers to collective benefits laid down in collective agreements, such as occupational pensions, and also to social security. The amount of the benefits might differ, and there are probably more individual benefits among the higher-skilled groups.

Actions and views

(a) Please describe any recent initiatives taken jointly or separately by companies, public authorities (national or local) or the social partners (eg collective agreements) to address the situation and improve the situation of unskilled workers in terms of pay, working conditions, training, employability, unemployment etc.

The most recent collective bargaining round in 2004 (DK0403103F) secured a basic pay increase for unskilled workers of 2.5% yearly for the next three years, not much different from the norm.

With regard to employability, SiD (now 3F) makes an annual 'workplace of the year' award. The award is given to workplaces that have introduced a work organisation based on broad cooperation and autonomous groups, with the aim of achieving a higher level of flexibility and employability for unskilled workers. Training can form part of these measures in the companies concerned, or be a measure in itself in order to improve employability.

In autumn 2004, an ambitious tripartite cooperation project was launched, involving the government and the social partners, with a view to analysing the levels of access to vocational training of Danish workers, especially those with only a short period of formal education (DK0410106F). The initiative has been taken in the light of the impact of economic globalisation in Denmark. In February 2005, the government issued an action plan on the development of the competences of those with a low level of education.

Economic globalisation has resulted in considerable relocation of production from Denmark to low-pay countries (DK0502102N). Those made redundant when their workplace closes are mainly unskilled workers belonging to 3F. In the event of mass redundancy, the regional public employment services seek to find re-employment in the region and in severe cases the government has set up special funds for further training of the unskilled workers affected. The results vary - for instance, several closures and relocations in Northern Jutland have put heavy pressure on the regional labour market authorities (DK0402101N)

(b) Please summarise the views of trade unions and employers’ organisations on the issue and its implications for collective bargaining.

The participation of the social partners in the abovementioned tripartite cooperation on vocational education and training is an important step. Both employers’ organisations and trade unions agree that education and upgrading competences in general, and continuing vocational training for the unskilled in particular, is the focal point in the effort to combat the negative effects of economic globalisation in Denmark. To this end, the social partners also agree that new jobs, or rather new kinds of jobs, should be created in the public sector, in order to get more people into work.

Comments

If the intentions of the government and the social partners bear fruit, Denmark will in future be a nation only of skilled and highly educated workers (a position supported by many economists and labour market experts). The competition in manufacturing from low-wage countries, resulting in relocation, has underlined that, if Denmark is to remain in the top half of the 'first division' of developed nations, a change in work organisation towards more responsibility, and not the least an upgrading in competences for unskilled workers, is required. (Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS)

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