Orderlies go on strike at National University Hospital

On 5 January 2007, 300 hospital orderlies at the National University Hospital in Copenhagen went on strike on the grounds that they are obliged to work under a different collective agreement following implementation of the structural reform on 1 January.

After a short workplace meeting on 5 January 2007, around 300 hospital orderlies at the National University Hospital (Rigshospitalet) in Denmark’s capital city, Copenhagen, went on strike. They claim that their right to collective bargaining has been violated because their new employer, the Capital Region (Region Hovedstaden), has chosen to transfer the orderlies to work under a different collective agreement. This change was made after the implementation of the structural reform on 1 January 2007.

The orderlies at Rigshospitalet are members of the United Federation of Danish Workers (Fagligt Fælles Forbund, 3F), and had a collective agreement with their former employer, Copenhagen Hospital Corporation (Hovedstadens Sygehusfællesskab, H:S). However, another collective agreement is in force covering orderlies at all other Danish hospitals than Rigshospitalet; this agreement is concluded between the regions’ employer organisation, the Danish Regions (Danske Regioner), and the trade union representing public employees, Trade and Labour (Fag og Arbejde, FOA).

Region Hovedstaden thus informed 3F that it did not wish to take over the former collective agreement in force at Rigshospitalet – with effect from 1 January 2007 – because a similar agreement already covers the area. The decision was taken after a request from Danske Regioner, which had already informed the orderlies’ organisation that they did not want to take over the former agreement.

Nature of structural reform

Danske Regioner took over the responsibility of employer organisation of all hospitals in Denmark in accordance with the structural reform that took effect on 1 January 2007. The structural reform, which is a comprehensive reorganisation of public sector tasks, implies the following changes:

  • a large scale redistribution of core tasks between the three territorial levels – state, counties/regions and municipalities;
  • a reduction of the number of municipalities from 271 to 98 and the abolishment of the 14 counties, which have been replaced by five regions;
  • a reduction in the number of territorial levels that have the right to impose taxes from three to two, as the regional level no longer has this right.

Changes in the distribution of tasks impact on all three levels but most significantly on the five regions, which are left with very few tasks. Since 1 January 2007, the administration of hospitals is their primary responsibility.

Loss of right to negotiate own agreement

As noted above, up to now, the orderlies at Rigshospitalet, as members of 3F, have had a special collective agreement with the former employer, H:S. However, this right will disappear if FOA takes over the full agreement at Rigshospitalet. The orderlies claim that the new agreement does not contain the same provisions that they have negotiated over the years, for example in relation to working time.

After some meetings between the orderlies and Danske Regioner, which proved unsuccessful in reaching agreement, it was decided to bring in FOA for renewed negotiations. After a week, the orderlies resumed their work and, after a final meeting, Danske Regioner left FOA and 3F to resolve the problem of representativeness between themselves – as long as FOA maintains responsibility for the collective agreement. Currently, FOA and 3F – both members of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) – are negotiating which of them will take up the seats as representatives in the bodies of cooperation at Rigshospitalet.

Commentary

The strike is the first in the public sector in the aftermath of the structural reform which was implemented on 1 January 2007. This reform stipulated that the governing rules concerning collective agreements in connection with the transfer of responsibilities between state, regions and municipalities would be the rules laid down in the ‘Act on employees’ rights in the event of transfers of undertakings’ (Virksomhedsoverdragelsesloven). According to Article 4a, section 3, the employer can renounce a collective agreement if another existing agreement covers the same area – which is the case in this situation.

The individual pay and working conditions, however, cannot be altered until the renewal of the existing conditions at the next bargaining round, due to be take place in the spring of 2008. Nevertheless, the orderlies at Rigshospitalet have lost their right to conclude their own collective agreement, which was the main reason for the strike. Thus, they are now aiming to agree terms with FOA about the distribution of employee representatives in the bodies of cooperation at Rigshospitalet. Ultimately, the orderlies would have to change membership to FOA if they want to maintain an influence on their working conditions.

The question of whether the strike is unofficial is more complicated. If a strike occurs during the peace period of an agreement, it is unlawful according to collective labour law. However, since the employer – Region Hovedstaden – chose to cancel the existing agreement with effect from 1 January 2007, no agreement was in force when the orderlies went on strike on 5 January. For now, such speculation is more of an academic nature since the orderlies and their trade union 3F have not been taken to the industrial court on these grounds.

Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS

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