Denmark: latest working life developments Q2 2018

The conclusion of a new collective agreement in the public sector, an important merger for trade unions, and a new think tank to improve working life for seniors are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Denmark in the second quarter of 2018.

Tough public sector union negotiations end in agreement

In May 2018, union members in the public sector voted in favour of a settlement proposal on the new collective agreement with, as it turned out, a comfortable majority. Negotiations had been very tough, with negotiating parties in the public sector and the municipal and regional authorities still far from agreement by the time the conclusion deadline approached.

On 2 March, the unions, in accordance with the collective labour law, issued notice of a strike by 100,000 employees in various municipalities and the regions, to be held after the agreement expired on 1 April. Shortly after this, public sector employer representatives announced a lockout of all employees in the state sector (around 120,000 employees). The municipal and regional authorities responded by announcing a lockout of another 320,000 employees.

According to rules relating to the renewal of collective agreements that reach a stalemate, State Mediator Mette Christensen stepped in to oversee negotiations, with the aim of reaching a compromise. She postponed actions on both sides for 28 days.

The main points of conflict were: working time rules for teachers; a paid lunch break for public sector employees; and a wage increase for public sector employees, called for by joint bargaining committee the Danish Central Federation of State Employees' Organisations (CFU). (CFU had asked for an 8.4% increase over three years; greater than the 6.7% offered by employers.)

On 28 April, in a last-minute deal brokered by the State Mediator, the wishes of both parties were fulfilled when the paid lunch break became part of the agreement, on the condition that part of the wage increase should cover it. Both parties agreed to a wage increase of 8.1% over the three year agreement period (equivalent to 6.1% in general wage increases, because an estimated 2% is set aside to cover the lunch break and projects relating to equal pay, competence development, etc.). Subsequently, both parties claimed victory.

The working time rules for teachers was the only area where little progress was made. Instead of an agreement, a commission will investigate the working conditions in order to make new rules before the next collective bargaining round begins in 2021.

 

Historic merger announced between union confederations

On 13 April 2018, the two largest union confederations – the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO, founded in 1898) and the Confederation of Professionals in Denmark (FTF, founded in 1952) – combined in an historical merger, after members took a ballot on the question ‘yes or no to a new start for the trade union movement?’. The merger will take effect from 1 January 2019.

Discussion about a possible merger between LO and the politically independent FTF first began in 2003 when LO dissolved its alliance with the Social Democrats. For many years, discussions and meetings between the parties were quite informal, but this attitude began to change around 2013. Since then, the leadership of the two confederations have been carefully preparing union officials and members for a merger.

It was important from the beginning that the merger would not end up as an enlarged LO, which already has 800,000 members against FTF’s 350,000. That is why the slogan was entitled ‘a new start for the trade union movement’ and why the merger will lead to a new name.

The largest union of LO, the United Federation of Danish Workers (3F), represents close to 45% of the aggregate votes. However, 3F held off agreeing to the merger because it feared that public sector interests would dominate a new confederation. The federation then changed its stance close to the end date of 13 April. On the other hand, Finansforbundet, the Financial Services' Union in Denmark and one of the largest FTF unions, left FTF and joined the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (Akademikerne).

All parties have kept silent about their ongoing work since the merger decision, but aim to have a new confederation in place by 1 January 2019.

New think tank to study ways to improve working life for older people

The Danish Government and the Danish People’s Party formed a think tank to look at labour market issues for older people. It will gather knowledge about what motivates older people to continue working, and how the public employment effort can help older unemployed people to access employment opportunities.

The former president of LO, Harald Børsting, has been nominated president of the think tank which comprises also eight experts and eight representatives from the social partners.

Harald Børsting is positive about the think tank’s potential:

I hope that with the think tank's work, we can help inspire more elderly people to volunteer to stay longer in the labour market. It is about strengthening the opportunities and motivation so that many more choose to stay a little longer.

The think tank will complete its work in summer 2019.

Commentary

Overall, while the process of the public sector negotiations was quite dramatic, the outcome was rather routine. The unions had vowed to stick together, and only conclude an agreement when the public employers accepted the teachers’ working time agreement – but this vow was broken when the largest public sector union, Danish Trade and Labour (FOA), settled on behalf of its members. The others remained united and concluded the negotiations with an acceptable agreement. The agreement is according to the labour market experts ‘just another maintenance agreement’ and not an agreement for the future.

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