Denmark: Evaluation of new rules on local social dialogue on the working environment

In July 2014, the Danish Working Environment Authority published the findings of an evaluation of rules on the organisation of local social dialogue (AMO) about the working environment introduced in 2010. More businesses are now working strategically with working environment issues, though not all the businesses surveyed had implemented the new rules fully.

Background

In October 2010, new rules regulating formalised social dialogue about working conditions in small and large businesses in Denmark, Arbejdsmiljøorganisationen (AMO), were introduced. The rules reformed the organisation of local health and safety committees – called working environment committees – where employers and employees discuss the status of the working environment and plan working environment initiatives.

The term 'working environment' (Arbejdsmiljø) has replaced 'health and safety' and is used, in current working environment legislation enforced by the Danish Working Environment Authority, to describe occupational health and safety.  The term 'working environment' was chosen because it expands the scope of what should be taken into account by employers and employees. It provides a more holistic understanding of what influences the physical and mental well-being of employees. This term takes into account the organisation of work, preventative actions to minimise risks, the social climate of the workplace, work–life balance and all other factors that may influence the physical and mental well-being of employees in a workplace.

About the new AMO rules

The new rules focus on the strategic planning of work and the working environment (181 KB PDF). The idea is that flexibility in the rules makes it possible for businesses to work strategically and to make the maintainance of the working environment part of daily production. The working environment becomes part of a business's strategic management instead of being an add-on to what the business is doing, and the working environment is taken into account when big and small decisions are made. 

The rules, as issued by the Danish Working Environment Authority, depend on the size of the business. There are three categories:

Businesses with fewer than 10 employees must organise their health and safety work around an annual meeting at which working conditions and strategy are debated and a plan is drawn up for the following year. These small businesses are not obliged to establish a working environment committee.

In businesses with 10 or more employees, the employees must elect and the employers must appoint representatives to the local working environment committee. The employee representative is elected for two years. The committee discusses and plans the work on working conditions and also discusses what competences the elected representatives need to carry out the strategy on working conditions for the following year. The work is built up around an annual scheme with meetings, and health and safety risk assessments. 

Businesses with 35 or more employees must establish a working environment committee at two levels:

  • one for the entire business;
  • one or more local working environment committees. 

There are no exact rules on how many local committees these businesses need to have. The number of committees is decided by looking at the organisation of the business and ensuring that all employees have a chance to communicate with their working environment representatives. The committees must be able to cope with the working environment issues in the business so size, geography and branch also have to be taken into account before establishing the committees. 

Training of working environment representatives

As part of the rules' new strategic focus, the training of working environment representatives has also been reformed (in Danish). The representatives receive three days of mandatory training in their first year of service and up to two days of additional training within the first year. After the first year, the employer is obliged to offer the representatives 1.5 days of additional training every year. The content of the additional training should be chosen through dialogue during the annual meetings on the working environment.

Evaluation of the new reform

An evaluation in 2013 examined the reform as a whole and in particular how it had been implemented in both small and large businesses.  The evaluation sought to determine:

  • what proportion of businesses had implemented the reform;
  • the extent to which the rules were working as intended. 

The evaluation is based on three surveys of Danish workplaces and 12 case studies. The surveys were conducted at both small and larger businesses to be able to cover the whole reform. More than 3,000 survey responses from more than 1,000 different businesses gave the evaluation a solid data sample. The 12 case studies targeted businesses known to be front runners in the area of the working environment.

The evaluation results are presented in four working papers and one main report (in Danish) published by the Danish Working Environment Authority in July 2014.

Implementation of the reform

Since the new rules were implemented, more than half the businesses had changed their local, formalised social dialogue on the working environment.

A third of small businesses with fewer than 10 employees had not implemented the rules. This means that only 62% of the small businesses had held the obligatory annual meeting. The results showed that the smaller the business, the lower the chance that it will hold an annual meeting.

The reform also gives working environment representatives the right to additional training. The evaluation concluded that raising their level of education demands attention on offering the additional training and then ensuring participation by those concerned. Although employers are required to offer additional training to the representatives, the evaluation found that this was not always the case. In many cases, employee representatives had to find a relevant course themselves, meaning that the rules had not been fully implemented by the time of the evaluation.

Only 47% of the working environment committees had discussed the representatives' need for additional training and demands for new competencies. The discussion should be a part of the annual meetings, as a part of the strategic use of additional training.

Effects of the reform

The reform has not changed the structure of the work carried out by a working environment representative. In general, the representatives were found to take the same amount of time for their duties and represent approximately the same number of colleagues.

The working environment committees are established based on the needs and demands of the businesses. As intended by the reform, businesses are making use of the flexibility within the rules. Many have used it to create a more centralised structure around the organisation of the working environment. In large businesses, working environment issues relevant to the whole business are discussed in a central working environment committee. Before the reform, these discussions would be on a local level and local solutions would be decided. The reform makes it possible to discuss issues at the most relevant level in the company – central or local.

The evaluation also found many examples where working environment activity has become more professional, with some members of the working environment committees spending most of their time on working environment issues. This includes both members elected by the employees and members appointed by the employer.

The evaluation contains 12 case studies from businesses in both the public and private sectors that are highlighted as front runners on working environment management. The case studies included desk research on working environment strategy papers and business strategy papers. The core element of the study was a series of interviews with employees and representatives for the employer, including both members and non-members of the working environment committees. The case studies were selected by the social partners, the evaluator (Oxford Research) and the Danish Working Environment Authority. The businesses featured in the case studies were shown to use the rules to work strategically on the working environment and all had the working environment written into their business strategies.

The annual meeting contributes to widespread employee participation in the work on working environment and also leads to a more systematic way of dealing with the issues. Meeting outputs include strategy papers and plans for additional training.

The surveys and the case studies demonstrated that the additional training creates a more skilled working environment committee. Particularly in businesses where the demand for training has been discussed at the annual meeting, there has been a significant positive impact on the working environment.  

Reactions from social partners

The social partners contributed to the reform and were represented on an advisory board for the evaluation. After the evaluation was published, the Danish Minister of Employment asked the social partners to present ideas on how to further the implementation of the rules based on the findings from the evaluation. The social partners combined to present their suggestions. 

In October 2014, the largest trade union, the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (LO) and the largest employers' organisation, the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA), reached an agreement setting out their suggestions on actions to take to further implement the working environment reform (in Danish)The initiatives in the LO/DA agreement are described under the following headings:

  • formal framework for additional training and skills development plan;
  • enforcement of the AMO rules;
  • provision of additional training;
  • awareness of the AMO rules;

As part of the agreement, the intention is to evaluate the new initiatives before 2020. However, the agreement involves actions by the Danish Working Environment Authority and the Ministry of Employment. It is not yet known when and how the initiatives set out in the agreement will be implemented.

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