Significant decline in lost working days in 2009

Strikes and lockouts in 2009 resulted in the lowest number of working days lost in Denmark since the current calculation method was introduced by Statistics Denmark in 1996. The total number of working days lost in the public and private sectors combined was 15,000 compared with 1.9 million in the so-called ‘conflict’ year of 2008. However, the unusually high number of days lost in 2008 meant that Denmark topped the European ranking for industrial disputes for 2005–2009.

Overview

Strikes and lockouts in 2009 in Denmark showed the lowest number of working days lost since Statistics Denmark (Danmarks Statistik) introduced the current calculation method in 1996. Unlike 2007 and 2008, collective bargaining did not take place in 2009.

  • The total number of days lost to strikes in 2009 was 15,000 compared with 2008 when almost 1.9 million working days were lost of which 98% were in the public sector (Figure 1 and Table 1).
  • In the period 2004–2007, when there were no major strikes, the total number of lost working days was between 50,000 and 100,000 days per year (Table 1).
  • Only 12,679 employees were involved in strikes in 2009 compared with 91,409 in 2008 (Table 2). The total number of strikes also fell from 335 in 2008 to 207 in 2009 (Table 3).
Table 1: Number of lost working days, 2004–2009

Year

Public

Private

Total

2004

6,600

69,800

76,400

2005

15,000

36,100

51,100

2006

62,400

23,500

85,900

2007

18,600

73,100

91,700

2008

1,839,500

29,600

1,869,100

2009

3,300

11,700

15,000

Note: Public sector includes ‘state, regions (counties before 2007) and municipalities’. The numbers cover unofficial as well as official work stoppages.

Source: Statistics Denmark (Nyt fra Danmarks Statistik Nr. 166, 20 April 2010: Arbejdsstandsninger 2009)

Table 2: Number of employees involved in strikes, 2004–2009

Year

Public

Private

Total

2004

5,962

69,748

75,710

2005

3,060

29,773

32,833

2006

58,780

20,348

79,128

2007

17,400

43,713

61,113

2008

72,041

19,368

91,409

2009

3,425

9,254

12,679

Note: Public sector includes ‘state, regions (counties before 2007) and municipalities’. The numbers cover unofficial as well as official work stoppages.

Source: Statistics Denmark (Nyt fra Danmarks Statistik Nr. 166, 20 April 2010: Arbejdsstandsninger 2009)

Table 3: Number of work stoppages, 2004–2009

Year

Public

Private

Total

2004

42

762

804

2005

31

503

534

2006

77

399

476

2007

80

782

862

2008

41

294

335

2009

32

175

207

Note: Public sector includes ‘state, regions (counties before 2007) and municipalities’. The numbers cover unofficial as well as official work stoppages.

Source: Statistics Denmark (Nyt fra Danmarks Statistik Nr. 166, 20 April 2010: Arbejdsstandsninger 2009)

Low strike activity in the public sector

The number of lost working days in the public sector (state, regions and municipalities) fell from almost 1.84 million in 2008 to just 3,300 in 2009 (Table 1), the lowest number since 1997.

The number of public sector employees involved in strikes also fell from 72,041 in 2008 to 3,425 in 2009 (Table 2). Strike activity in 2008 was undoubtedly exceptional.

Figure 1 provides a comparison of levels of strike activity in the public and private sector in Denmark.

Figure 1: Lost working days in private and public sectors, 2004–2009

Figure 1: Lost working days in private and public sectors, 2004–2009

Source: Statistics Denmark

Strike activity in the private sector

In the private sector, 11,700 working days were lost in 2009 (Table 1) due to strikes of which 4,900 were in the transport, post and telecommunications sectors. In the manufacturing industry, strikes led to 4,400 lost working days, half of which were in the iron and metal sectors.

A total of 9,254 private sector employees were involved in strikes in 2009, which is less than half of the number involved in 2008 (Table 2).

In most industries, there was a decline in the number of lost working days in 2009 compared with 2008. The main exceptions were:

  • the food and drink and tobacco industries, where the number of working days lost increased from 900 in 2008 to 1,600 in 2009;
  • the construction industry, where the number of lost working days increased from 1,000 in 2008 to 1,400 in 2009.

The food and drink industry traditionally has strike-prone areas, headed by brewery and slaughterhouse workers.

(See also DK0907019I, DK0806039I, DK0706039I and DK0606019I for reports of strike activities in previous years).

Impact of the crisis

The decline in work stoppages and lost working days is probably the result of the economic crisis which marked the whole of 2009.

Around 28,000 employees were made redundant in 2009 and, during the year, several medium-sized and large companies turned to work-sharing in order to wind down production until orders started growing again (DK1003021I). Under such circumstances, strikes are probably not the best option to take when things go wrong – partly because of the obvious possibility of strikers being the first in the line for redundancy, and partly because employees realise that strikes in a time of crisis will push the enterprise further towards the edge.

Tables 1–3 cover all strikes in Denmark in 2009. Tables 4 and 5 present data only on unofficial strikes (that is, stoppages in breach of collective agreements) in the sectors covered by the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA), which with the exception of finance and insurance, and parts of the environment industry, is the rest of the private sector.

The trend reported by Statistics Denmark in Tables 1–3 is confirmed in Tables 4 and 5. There was low strike activity in 2009 compared with preceding years. For example, only 2,511 working days were lost in 2009 due to disputes over wages (Table 4) and, in the last two quarters of 2009, only 17 strikes concerned wages (Table 5).

The figures from 2009 (due to the financial crisis) indicate that, overall, annual local wage bargaining was relatively calm (Table 4). Figures from the first two quarters of 2010 thus indicate an increase in the total number of lost working days due to wages (Table 5). Until the third quarter of 2010, a total of 14,475 working days were lost overall due to industrial conflicts, though the number fell significantly again in the third quarter. The second quarter followed the renewal of collective agreements in the DA-area, which is reflected in more strikes overall as well as those concerning wages.

Table 4: Work stoppages in breach of collective agreements, 2005–2009
 

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Total No. of work stoppages

490

380

768

282

168

No. of lost working days

35,284

24,303

69,095

29,238

11,402

Over wages No. of work stoppages

164

131

258

153

49

No. of lost working days

14,076

10,997

27,984

13,782

2,511

Note: Collective bargaining took place in the trend-setting private sector in 2007 and in the first quarter of 2010.

Source: DA, KonfliktStatistik 3, kvartal 2010 [Conflict Statistics, 3rd quarter 2010]

Table 5: Work stoppages in breach of collective agreements, Q3 2009–Q3 2010
 

2009 Q3

2009 Q4

2010 Q1

2010 Q2

2010 Q3

Total No. of work stoppages

23

37

63

169

25

No. of lost working days

792

3,075

2,902

9,986

1,587

Over wages No. of work stoppages

8

9

20

92

9

No. of lost working days

792

811

1,253

5,774

566

Note: Collective bargaining took place in the trend-setting private sector in 2007 and in the first quarter of 2010.

Source: DA, KonfliktStatistik 3, kvartal 2010 [Conflict Statistics, Third quarter 2010]

Denmark tops the European ranking on industrial disputes

Despite the modest number of lost working days in 2009, Denmark was surprisingly one of the more ‘strike-prone’ countries in Europe. According to the EIRO report, Developments in industrial action 2005–2009, which looked at the EU27 and Norway, Denmark tops the ranking of lost working days due to industrial conflict.

On average, between 2005 and 2009, the highest levels of industrial action took place in Denmark (159.4 days lost per 1,000 workers) and France (132 days lost per 1,000 workers); the figures show a considerably higher value for Denmark compared to the situation in perhaps the historically most strike-prone country in Europe, that is, France. The average for 25 countries was 30.6 days lost (no data were available for Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Greece). The average in the new Member States (11 days lost) was only about a quarter of that in the EU15 plus Norway (43.6 days).

However, the figures might be biased because the two-month official strike in Denmark in 2008 over the renewal of pay agreements by nurses, child and youth educators and home carers employed by municipal and regional authorities accounted for 98% of the working days lost during that year, and the Danish 2008 figures were the highest for a decade (DK0907019I).

As a result, in 2008 Denmark recorded the highest annual figure for working days lost per 1,000 workers of any country (701.9) during the period 2005–2009, inflating its annual average for the five-year period to more than 159 days lost per 1,000 workers. But if only 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 are considered, Denmark had an annual average of 23.7 working days lost.

This is the same as the UK and would place Denmark around ninth on the ranking with a normal number of working days lost in 2009. In other words, the normal level of strikes in Denmark over this period places the country in the lower end of the upper third of strike-prone countries, only occasionally erupting in connection with renewals of collective agreements; as in 2008 and in 1998, when 11 million working days were lost due to a major conflict in the private sector covered by DA.

Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS, University of Copenhagen

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