Union to set up complaints board as part of good practice rules

The trade union for employees working in financial services, Finansforbundet, has drawn up a set of rules pertaining to good governance for trade unions. Inspired by the philosophy of good company management as part of the concept of corporate governance, Finansforbundet has translated its own terms of good management into the notion of union governance. Among other elements, the trade union has introduced a complaints board where dissatisfied members can have their case reviewed by an impartial lawyer. Moreover, the union aims to ensure greater accountability and a wider representation of membership interests.

The trade union for employees working in the financial sector in Denmark, the Financial Services’ Union (Finansforbundet), has drawn up a new constitution for good trade union practice; the latter is officially termed ‘union governance’ with reference to the equivalent concept of good management of companies, namely corporate governance. As in the case of corporate governance, union governance introduces a set of specific rules and activities with the aim of ensuring decent and ethically defensible trade union management in Denmark. One of the innovative features of these new measures is a complaints board, where dissatisfied members can have their cases reviewed by an impartial lawyer, that is, a union ombuds officer.

In an interview on 12 February 2007 with A4, the weekly newsletter of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO), the President of Finansforbundet, Allan Bang, emphasised that:

Union governance is a set of rules of conduct about how we would like to behave towards our members and those employers we associate with on a day-to-day basis. It is not a ‘pop smart’ attempt to brand ourselves, but a recognition of the fact that we in the trade union movement from time to time are seen as being very reactionary and obdurate. We have to recognise that everything is not perfect as it is and that mistakes happen.

As an example of good practice, Mr Bang mentioned that the members of Finansforbundet should be consulted before a new collective bargaining round and that their views be taken into account.

Content of good practice rules

More specifically, Finansforbundet has decided on the following measures:

  • to introduce an impartial complaints board headed by a trade union ombuds officer chosen from outside the ranks of Finansforbundet;
  • to monitor the attitudes, views and level of satisfaction among its members systematically and regularly;
  • to ensure the utmost accuracy in the financial and membership accounts, guaranteeing that they contain all of the relevant information about fees and fringe benefits;
  • to publish the age of those elected to office. Furthermore, the union plans to discuss the introduction of a maximum age limit for members of the governing body;
  • to ensure the highest possible level of openness and transferability regarding decisions of policy and administration.

Balancing various interests

In the interview, Mr Bang conceded that it can be difficult to incorporate the views of members in matters of policy. For instance, it is unlikely that the labour market pensions administered by the social partners would have been introduced at the beginning of the 1990s if the members’ wishes had been strictly followed. Although the members of the large trade unions were against the idea at the time, the labour market pension scheme has emerged as one of the most successful initiatives carried out by the social partners (DK0310103F).

The composition of the governing body plays an important role in union governance. The main principle is that the governing body represents a broad spectrum of competencies and reflects the membership base. However, only three seats among 17 places in the governing body are currently occupied by women - despite the fact that more than half of Finansforbundet’s members are female.

Commentary

Having an ombuds officer or an impartial complaints body connected to an individual trade union marks an unusual move in the context of European trade unions, although Finansforbundet is not the first union to introduce such a body in Denmark. The two largest Danish unions, the Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees in Denmark (Handels- og Kontorfunktionærernes Forbund, HK) and the United Federation of Danish Workers (Fagligt Fælles Forbund, 3F), have each introduced an impartial complaints board. The complaints board gives the members of HK and 3F the opportunity to challenge the procedure or consideration of a case in the single union departments across the country.

The boards are headed by arbitrators: in 3F, by a well-known judicial professor, Eva Smith; in HK, by an equally well-known professor of labour law, Ruth Nielsen. The complaints board of 3F ruled on 26 cases in 2005, which was the first year of the new board. In seven of these cases, the views of the members were accepted and the judgement resulted in compensation being granted to the members. HK’s complaints board has been in operation since 1994. On their respective websites, HK and 3F provide practical guides for members who wish to lodge a complaint.

Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS

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