Denmark: Latest Working life developments – Q4 2016

A new coalition government, progress on digitalisation including the establishment of a Disruption Council and new labour inspection rules following the Siemens Windpower scandal are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Denmark in the fourth quarter of 2016.

New digital strategy in the pipeline

On 27 November 2016, Liberal Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen formed a new government by offering two support parties, the Liberal Alliance and the Conservatives, seats in the government that, to date, had been taken up by the Liberals alone.

In the subsequently published government platform, the new three-party government focused on digitalisation and disruption (that is, the change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect the status quo), including related themes such as robot technology and automatisation. These themes had not, until then, been the focus of a properly formulated national action plan – although this had been promised by the government for some time. Unions and employers had also been asking for such an overall plan to supplement the existing Industry 4.0 initiative and to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in particular, to look for new digital solutions.

The aims of the new platform were stated as follows:

The strategy shall support digital growth companies and secure the transformation of Danish trade and industry through future-proof education, good terms for investments and digital confidence, together with a focused industrial promotion.

These words echo the views of the social partners, who have reiterated the need for timely education and training, in parallel with economic support for digital developments.

Disruption Council

On 16 December Løkke Rasmussen held the first meeting of the newly created Disruption Council. The Council is a partnership between the relevant ministries, the social partners, experts in different related fields, plus researchers and entrepreneurs from innovative companies.

The new partnership will include, in its work, knowledge from the social partners and relevant research plus the results of the work carried out in other fora, including:

  • tripartite negotiations about adult and continuing education starting in the spring of 2017;
  • Digital Growth Panel;
  • Entrepreneur Panel.

Social partners are positive

Although the social partners, particularly the unions, are focusing on new types of work and employment relations, they are generally positive about the plans. Nevertheless, the largest union confederation, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), has warned the Prime Minister that the project must be funded properly, with significant money set aside for helping people to upgrade their qualifications. LO adds that the Danish model for regulating wages and working conditions must be the background for all decisions taken by the Disruption Council.

New rules for labour inspection

In May 2016, an occupational health scandal involving Siemens Windpower led to a debate about labour inspections. The scandal emerged after it was revealed that about 64 workers at a Siemens plant had been affected by epoxy and isocyanate. The plant had been part of the ‘crown smiley scheme’ and allowed to control its own safety measures as part of the certification system, but it became obvious that this was not working as well as expected.

Following investigation by the Ministry of Employment,  a new set of rules was applied to the self-controlling certification scheme in November 2016. The new rules, based on eight initiatives, were backed by a big majority in Parliament as well as the social partners. The initiatives include:

  • stronger control by the Danish Working Environment Authority (AT);
  • a higher degree of transparency;
  • focusing on the psychological work of the certification system;
  • better use of information from registers on accidents and health-related diseases.

Commentary

The initiative to set up a Disruption Council comes at the eleventh hour. Most other EU countries have already established national action plans for the development of digitalisation. Although Demark is number one on the barometer of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), until now there has been no national business strategy on the use of digital solutions, especially among Danish SMEs. Until recently, ‘disruption’ has been a foreign word for many companies. The members of the Disruption Council, with  their competencies from different fields, signal its importance, underscored by the fact that the Prime Minister will be its chair.

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