Government proposal for wage commission agreed after strong criticism

On 6 October 2008, the government and trade unions agreed in a second attempt on the framework for a tripartite wage commission for the public sector. The commission will examine equal pay between men and women, as well as between the public and private sectors. The government’s invitation to the social partners to form a commission analysing wage differences came about as a result of the difficult bargaining round in the public sector in the spring of 2008.

On 18 September 2008, the Danish government sent an invitation to the social partners to participate in the creation of a commission to ‘identify, analyse and discuss several issues regarding wages, recruitment and management conditions in the public sector’.

Demand for commission to analyse equal pay

The invitation from the government to participate in the formation of a tripartite wage commission was long awaited by the trade unions in the public sector. For instance, during the difficult collective bargaining round in the spring of 2008 (DK0803019I), the trade unions repeatedly demanded the government to form a wage commission that would concentrate on determining why occupations dominated by women lag behind in the general public sector wage development.

Initially, the government was reluctant to comply with this demand, but after the conclusion of the collective bargaining negotiations and the long-lasting strike that took place in connection with the renewal of the public sector collective agreements (DK0804029I), the government decided to reconsider. It announced that ‘in the light of experience gained from collective bargaining in the public sector in 2008 and after discussion with the social partners in that sector, the government has decided to set up a wage commission’. However, the government did not indicate which specific focus the commission’s work should have.

Disagreement among trade unions

Surprisingly, the trade unions themselves did not agree on what the main focus of the commission should be. The social and health assistants in Trade and Labour (Fag og Arbejde, FOA), 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) maintained that unequal pay between men and women should be the most important issue. All three trade unions have a considerable representation of women and they are all affiliated to the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO). The trade unions also believed that the commission should only consist of experts on law, gender, economy and wage issues. Moreover, they argued that a commission consisting of social partner representatives only would inevitably lead to conflict as a result of their different interests.

However, the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants in Denmark (Funktionærerne og Tjenestemændenes Fællesråd, FTF) and the Danish Nurses’ Organisation (Dansk Sygeplejeråd, DSR) did not agree on the main focus of the commission. First, they wished that the commission should focus more on the educational link with wages – equal pay for equal education – and not gender-related pay issues in particular.

Nonetheless, the trade unions rejected the government’s proposal issued on 18 September. They believed that the issue of equal pay was overshadowed by more general wage issues related to management and recruitment in the public sector. LO and FTF also agreed that most of the issues in the first proposal to be dealt with by the commission were in fact issues that should be addressed through collective bargaining. The unique possibility of identifying and analysing aspects of unequal pay, also across the private and public sectors, seemed completely lost. The trade unions were mostly obliged to drop the idea of a commission, but after negotiations with the government they found a compromise that for the greater part had replaced the term ‘management’ with ‘wage’.

Terms of reference of new commission

In a second attempt to agree on a framework for the commission, the terms of reference (in Danish, 55Kb PDF) published on 6 October 2008 focused more on wage differences. The government and trade unions agreed that the main objectives of the commission should be to:

  • wages and wage developments in the public sector with a special focus on the period after the introduction of the new pay systems in the mid 1990s (DK9705110F, DK0004173N);
  • compare wages and wage developments concerning relevant professionals in the public sector, including typical female and male-dominated professions, on the basis of education, seniority, management, functions and absence pattern;
  • shed light on whether a proper framework for management and organisation is present in the public sector – in this regard, the commission will draw comparisons with relevant areas in the private sector.

Composition of commission

The commission comprises, in the end, both social partner representatives in the public sector and experts in their field. For instance, four independent experts will participate in the commission, and an expert from the Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) will provide the commission with detailed information on the private sector.

Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS

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