Denmark: Latest working life developments – Q4 2017

The signing of a long-awaited tripartite agreement on adult and continuing training by the government and the social partner confederations, and modifications to the ‘Crown Smiley’ scheme 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 2017.

New tripartite agreement on adult and continuing training signed

On 29 October 2017, the Danish government and the social partner organisations, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA) concluded a tripartite agreement on adult and continuing training (Voksen- og efteruddannelserne, VEU). This was the third important tripartite agreement in a row, the first in 2016 being on the better integration of refugees in the labour market, and the second in the spring of 2017 on better conditions for vocational training and in particular increasing the number of apprenticeships.

After the agreement had been concluded, the Minister of Employment, Troels Lund Poulsen said in a speech that

600,000 adults lack basic reading and writing skills. Almost every second unskilled worker does not consider it necessary to take up continuing training, and we can see that still fewer sign up for adult and continuing education. These are some of the major challenges that the agreement takes care of.

The overall intention of the parties to the agreement is to make access to individual VEU simpler and easier. The most significant parts of the agreement are as follows.

  • Around DKK 400 million (€53 million as at 18 January 2018) has been set aside for a ‘reconversion fund’, which will enable unskilled and skilled workers to undertake further training on their own initiative. The main aim of this fund is to provide better opportunities for change.
  • Basic skills will be strengthened through more opportunities to receive teaching in reading, writing and arithmetic, and the allocation of a budget of DKK 100 million (€13 million) to increase awareness of the opportunities for learning. New aspects include an increased focus on skills in information and communication technologies (ICT) and English.
  • The allowance paid to all those participating in on adult vocational training courses (Arbejdsmarkedsuddannelser, AMU) will be increased from 80% to 100% of the highest unemployment benefit rate.
  • The quality of AMU courses will be improved by increasing the tariffs for schools, bringing the budget for the AMU area to DKK 280 million (€37 million) in order to enhance the quality of the training offered. In addition, DKK 140 million (€19 million) has been allocated to a quality pool for AMU.
  • A more flexible range of AMU courses will be provided, with more opportunities to customise AMU courses to meet the special needs of businesses.
  • Choice and access to continuing training has been made easier. There will be a single point of entrance to the VEU system, making it easier for companies and employees to obtain information about training opportunities, enrol on courses and apply for VEU allowances.

Reaction to the agreement

The tripartite agreement was received positively by individual social partner organisations and most political parties, including the opposition. The increased allowance for those participating in AMU was met with great satisfaction among the unions. In a speech on the day the agreement was reached, Dennis Kristensen, President of the largest LO-affiliated union in the public sector, Trade and Labour (FOA) said: 'This is an important result. There is no doubt that the low level of compensation has played a major role in the decline in adult and continuing education in municipalities and regions.'

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Similar comments came from the largest unions in the private sector – the United Federation of Danish Workers (3F) and the Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees (HK). Employers who are members of DA and the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) are satisfied that the new agreement meets the current need for more qualified employees in the companies.

Adjustments to the ‘Crown Smiley’ scheme

The Crown Smiley scheme was updated in December 2016 as parliament passed a new legislation from the Ministry of Employment. The Crown Smiley scheme is a certification by the Danish Working Environment Authority (AT) that indicates that the enterprise holds a recognised health and safety certificate by using a series of colour- and symbol-coded smiley faces – a Crown Smiley means that the enterprise has made extra efforts to ensure a high level of health and safety at work. The new adjustments reduce the duration of the Crown Smiley from five to three years. They also give AT the right to inspect businesses awarded a Crown Smiley if any complaints or accidents are reported concerning them. The changes have been cleared with the Working Environment Council (AMR), which is a tripartite body.

Commentary

The tripartite agreement on VEU was been under negotiation for a long time, but when it came most of those concerned seem satisfied with the agreement. For the trade unions, it was an opening in the efforts to strengthen vocational and continuing training that, almost contradictory, is facing planned savings in the state budget at technical and vocational schools. As expressed in a speech by Claus Jensen, President of the Danish Metalworkers Union (Dansk Metall): 'It’s no secret that we have fought tooth and nail to remove the planned savings in vocational education, so with the tripartite agreement we have taken a step in the right direction.'

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