Migrant workers included in latest round of collective agreements

For the first time ever, Denmark’s collective agreements in the private sector contain explicit provisions for migrant workers. The main objective of the 2007 collective agreements in this respect is to ensure better social security, particularly in the areas of housing, pensions and pay during vacation, for the rising number of migrant workers in Denmark. These measures also help to prevent wage dumping.

In early spring 2007, following collective bargaining negotiations in the private sector – involving the Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) and the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) – a new set of collective agreements was renewed. For the first time, migrant workers are explicitly mentioned in these agreements, since the previous wave of migrant workers came to Denmark in the 1960s. Due to labour shortages in the currently strong Danish economy, the number of migrant workers has increased, particularly from eastern European countries. As a result, the issue of migrants’ working conditions and residence in Denmark has emerged as a growing topic for public debate.

Influx of migrant workers

When the EU admitted 10 new Member States in 2004, most of the EU15 countries introduced transition rules for migrant workers from the eastern European countries, in order to protect their domestic markets from a possible influx of migrant workers. In Denmark, migrant workers need to secure a full-time job under a collective agreement or similar conditions in order to receive a residency permit (DK0312103F, DK0605029I).

However, since 2004, Denmark has faced a rapid increase in the number of migrant workers from new EU Member States. In 2004, some 2,000 work and residency permits were issued, increasing to 5,000 in 2005 and to 11,000 in 2006. At the same time, the number of posted workers has increased, as eastern European companies deliver services to companies in Denmark. A typical example concerns Polish entrepreneurs that operate as subcontractors in the building and construction sector. Although the exact number of posted workers is unknown, experts estimate that this group, together with illegal workers, is as big as the group of migrant workers with residency permits. Altogether, about 20,000 persons from eastern European countries are working in Denmark for a shorter or longer period of time. While this proportion is not as large as that in Norway, Sweden, Ireland and the UK, it has nevertheless given rise to questions about the security of migrant workers.

Collective bargaining

Following the 2007 collective bargaining round in the private sector, under the umbrella of LO and DA, a number of provisions that aim to address the security of eastern European workers have been stipulated.

In the industrial sector, the Central Organisation of Industrial Workers (CO-Industri) and the Confederation of Danish Industries (Dansk Industri, DI) have agreed on a ‘code for agreements with migrant workers’. This includes the provision that migrant workers should not be forced to receive and pay for services offered by the employer in connection with the contract of employment, for example with respect to housing and transport. Such services should be voluntary for the worker. Furthermore, if such a voluntary agreement is made, it is terminable with one month’s notice.

The renewed collective agreement for the building and construction sector encompasses new provisions offering improved security for eastern European workers, even if they are not explicitly mentioned. The agreement between the Danish Construction Association (Dansk Byggeri) and the United Federation of Danish Workers (Fagligt Fælles Forbund, 3F) includes a protocol regarding ‘adaptation negotiations’, which concerns new members of Dansk Byggeri. If, after a meeting, the union can find evidence of circumstances which suggest that the provisions of the collective agreement are not being observed, it is up to the company to prove to Dansk Byggeri that the collective agreements in force are being maintained.

One element of income security for migrant workers encompasses the issue of pensions. Dansk Byggeri and 3F, along with the Union of Wood, Building and Industry Workers in Denmark (Forbundet Træ, Industri, Byg, TIB), have agreed that, from 2007, pension contributions must be paid from the first working day, in the case of new workers who have worked for at least six months. In addition, provisions have been introduced to ensure that migrant workers receive pay during their vacation; according to the Danish collective agreement, migrant workers are entitled to receive such payment.

In the cleaning sector, the social partners agreed on a protocol stipulating that the use of subcontractors should not form part of a strategy of underbidding. However, companies in this sector are not liable for their subcontractors’ compliance with the Danish collective agreements.


In general, the new provisions for migrant workers, stipulated under the 2007 collective agreements, aim to strengthen security as part of the Danish flexicurity model, which combines flexibility and security. More specifically, steps have been taken to offer greater security to migrant workers in the areas of housing, pensions and pay during vacation. However, it should be highlighted that, through these initiatives, the trade unions are also offering security to their Danish members against wage dumping by controlling new members of the employer associations. Moreover, notwithstanding these initiatives, migrant workers are principally covered by the flexibility part of the flexicurity model; in other words, they are essentially deemed as being a flexible workforce, thus raising questions about the extent to which they are offered appropriate security under the flexicurity model.

Andreas Birkbak and Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS

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