Fewer working days lost due to strikes in 2005

Figures published by Statistics Denmark concerning strikes in 2005 show that 51,300 working days were lost due to work stoppages. This represents a 33% decrease in the number of working days lost compared with 2004, and is also the lowest figure since 1996. This more moderate strike activity seems to have continued into 2006.

Working days lost

A total of 51,300 working days were lost due to work stoppages in 2005, compared with 76,400 working days in 2004, which is the equivalent of a 33% decrease. Compared with 2003, the 2005 figures represent a 7% decline in the number of days lost, which is therefore a somewhat smaller difference.

These results emerged from the most recent statistics on industrial disputes, published by Statistics Denmark (Danmarks Statistik) on 28 April 2006. The statistics include figures covering both lawful strikes and strikes in breach of collective agreements in both the private and public sectors (DK0506101N).

The findings show that the total decrease in the number of working days lost was unevenly distributed across occupational sectors. Overall, the industrial sector lost 30,200 fewer working days in 2005 compared with 2004. In contrast, the number of days lost in the state and county/municipal sectors in 2005 more than doubled to 15,000 days, compared with the preceding year when some 6,600 working days were lost. The municipalities accounted for the greatest proportion of this increase.

Reduced number of work stoppages

The number of work stoppages in 2005 – at 534 – represented the lowest figure since 1996, when the existing statistical method for measuring days lost was first introduced. Indeed, the figure of 534 was 22% lower than the next lowest number of work stoppages, which had been recorded in 2003.

In relation to the number of work stoppages by sector, the transport sector ranks first in the list, with 117 work stoppages; however, these work stoppages only accounted for a relatively small number of 6,000 lost working days. As shown in Table 1, work stoppages in Denmark seem to increase and decline every second year.

Table 1: Work stoppages in Denmark, 2000–2005
Work stoppages in Denmark seem to increase and fall every second year. From 2004 to 2005, the number of lost working days lost fell by 33%.
Year Number of work stoppages Number of workers involved Number of lost working days
2000 1,081 75,656 124,800
2001 954 54,752 59,500
2002 1,349 110,854 193,600
2003 681 44,356 55,100
2004 804 75,710 76,400
2005 534 32,833 51,300

Source: Statistics Denmark, ‘Work Stoppages 2004’ (Statistiske Efterretninger, Arbejdsstandsninger 2004), 28 April 2006

Table 2: Top three sectors most affected by lost working days, 2002–2005
The three sectors most affected by lost working days from 2002 to 2005 were the food and beverage, iron and metals and transport sectors.
Industry Number of disputes Number of workers involved Number of lost working days
2002
Iron and metals 305 29,871 32,000
Food and beverage 274 28,066 30,700
Transport 137 8,155 8,600
2003
Iron and metals 133 14,986 14,000
Food and beverage 137 8,165 11,100
Transport 90 4,036 3,900
2004
Food and beverage 227 26,332 30,000
Iron and metals 135 20,923 16,700
Transport 121 11,524 8,600
2005
State, county/municipal 31 3,060 15,000
Iron and metals 93 11,325 10,700
Food and beverage 52 4,143 8,600

Source: Statistics Denmark, ‘Work Stoppages 2002–2005’ (Statistiske Efterretninger, Arbejdsstandsninger 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)

Fewer industrial disputes

In 2005, a total of 534 industrial disputes took place, which is 34% less than the corresponding figure for 2004. On average, the number of working days lost in each dispute was 96 days in 2005, compared with 95 days in 2004. Most of the working days lost (84%) resulted from industrial disputes during the first six months of the year and mainly concerned questions about wages or political issues.

A more peaceful labour market is also indicated by statistics published by the Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforeining, DA) for the first quarter of 2006. During the first quarter of this year, a total of 121 strikes took place, representing a marginal decrease compared with the same period for 2005. Overall, workers suspended work activities for an average of 9.6 working days per employee due to strikes during the first quarter of 2006; this represents a small decrease of 18 days compared with the same quarter last year. The working days lost were, among other things, the result of the large-scale unofficial strikes among SAS pilots (DK0602101N) and due to bus strikes in Copenhagen earlier in the year. It should be noted, however, that the DA figures only cover strikes in breach of collective agreements and in the private sector.

Commentary

Strikes have been more frequent in previous years. In 2000, in particular, the number of unlawful strikes reached high levels. So far this year, the total number of working days lost due to strikes in breach of an agreement is nearly 80,000 days, according to DA statistics. Nevertheless, strike activity in Denmark has largely declined during the last decade, with the exception of 1998 when a general conflict took place in relation to the renewal of collective agreements.

Three factors, in particular, have influenced the more moderate levels of strike activity. First, the sector organisations have agreed to react faster to help prevent possible conflicts from arising in the workplace. This could take place in connection with the important wage bargaining at company level. Second, a provision in the recent trend-setting Industry Agreement from 2004 (DK0403103F) determines that extra work, or overtime, which is the result of work stoppages, will not be paid as overtime but as normal working time. Finally, the threat of relocation of production activities to low-cost countries, and the risk of closure of Danish workplaces caused by economic globalisation, has restrained workers from resorting to strike action, other than as a last alternative.

Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS

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