Strike action and work stoppages in 2008

Conflicts in connection with collective bargaining for public sector employees in the Danish municipalities and regions resulted in some 1,837,600 lost working days in 2008. All other work stoppages resulted in about 31,400 lost working days. The pattern of the last decade – that mainly single strikes dominate the statistics – was thus confirmed. Figures on unofficial strikes alone showed a significant decline in tendency, largely due to the global economic crisis.

Public sector foremost in strike action

Large-scale conflicts among nurses, child and youth educators and home carers in connection with the renewal of the collective agreements in the public sector at municipal and regional levels resulted in some 1,837,600 working days being lost in Denmark in 2008. The employees on strike belonged to the female-dominated trade unions: the Danish Nurses Organisation (Dansk Sygeplejeråd, DSR), the Danish Federation of Early Childhood Teachers and Youth Educators (Forbundet for Pædagoger og Klubfolk, BUPL), and Trade and Labour (Fag og Arbejde, FOA). They were striking for equal pay under the slogan ‘men’s wages for women’s occupations’ (DK0804029I).

This was the largest number of working days lost due to industrial conflict in 10 years (DK0806039I). In 1998, after a breakdown of collective bargaining in the private sector, a general conflict resulted in more than three million working days lost. During the nine years in between, the number of working days lost due to industrial conflict has only twice exceeded 100,000 days.

Concerns over low wages

All other strikes in 2008 resulted in about 31,400 lost working days, bringing the total to 1,869,100 working days lost in 2008 (Table 1). The pattern since 1998 that single strikes dominate the statistics of the year was thus confirmed, whereas the pattern of occupational groups resorting to strike action was broken. The employees on strike in 2008 were normally far from being strike prone, especially employees in the field of elder care. Nevertheless, in 2008 they resorted to industrial conflict for the first time and expressed dissatisfaction with pay and working conditions. The workers were concerned that young people would reject the option of training as social and healthcare workers because of the low wages that they could expect, thus leading to a lack of qualified employees in the sector. A lack of qualified workers could, in turn, lead to small wage increases.

The number of work stoppages in 2008 decreased significantly in the second quarter – that is, during the last rounds of the collective bargaining.

Table 1: Work stoppages 2004–2008
  Number of work stoppages Number of employees involved Number of lost working days
2004 804 75,710 76,400
2005 534 32,833 51,300
2006 476 79,128 85,800
2007 862 61,113 91,700
2008 335 91,409 1,869,100

Source: Statistics Denmark (Danmarks Statistik), Statistiske Efterretninger 2009:9, 28 April 2009

The financial crisis gained momentum during the summer of 2008 and it is noteworthy that, since then, few workings days have been lost in the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing was the economic sector most hit by redundancies and job sharing (DK0903021I).

Decline in number of unofficial strikes

The relatively low strike action since the summer of 2008 is also reflected in the Conflict Statistics (KonfliktStatistik) published by the Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA), which covers strikes in breach of collective agreements in the private sector except for agriculture and financial intermediation. Some 19,000 working days were lost in the second quarter of 2008; however, this number decreased to 4,600 days in the third quarter and 1,400 days in the fourth quarter of 2008.

According to DA’s latest figures (in Danish, 24Kb PDF) from the second quarter of 2009 (published on 1 September 2009, see also Table 2) – when the economic crisis was at its peak – the number of lost working days amounted to 3,255 or a sixth of the total a year before. The second quarter of the year is particularly interesting, since it is the period during which the annual wage bargaining takes place in companies and traditionally it is the quarter with most unofficial strikes due to wages. However, only 20 strikes took place due to wages in the second quarter of 2009, compared with 99 in the same period in 2008.

In fact, the extent of work stoppages in the second quarter of 2009 is the lowest result for a second quarter since the data were first collected in 1991. Labour market researcher Flemming Ibsen, at the University of Aalborg, considers that the absence of strikes in times of severe economic crisis ‘is due to a growing company culture where the employees are more loyal to the company than before – and this on the other hand is connected to globalisation. If we want to beat the others in the world market we have to stick together’.

Table 2: Work stoppages in breach of collective agreement
    2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2008/2 2008/3 2008/4 2009/1 2009/2
Total Number of work stoppages 741 490 380 768 282 150 33 28 39 70
Number of lost working days 66,114 35,284 24,303 69,095 29,238 18,987 4,680 1,390 4,283 3,255
Due to wages Number of work stoppages 242 164 131 258 153 99 5 7 12 20
Number of lost working days 22,817 14,076 10,997 27,984 13,782 11,402 507 160 493 920

Note: Collective bargaining took place in the trend-setting private sector in 2004 and 2007.

Source: DA, KonfliktStatistik 2, kvartal 2009 [Conflict Statistics, 2nd quarter 2009]

Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS

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