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Danish labour conflict still possible after marathon Sunday negotiations

Over 21 hours of negotiations between municipal and union negotiators at Denmark’s official labour conciliatory body Forligsinstitutionen (FI) have continued into Monday morning with no agreement yet reached.

Danish labour conflict still possible after marathon Sunday negotiations
People outside Denmark’s official labour conciliatory body Forligsinstitutionen on Sunday April 15th. Photo: Uffe Weng/Ritzau Scanpix

Michael Ziegler, the lead negotiator for municipal employers, said that some progress had been made in the negotiations, which began at 10am on Sunday.

But there remains a possibility that no agreement will be reached between the two sides, resulting in a wide-reaching labour conflict.

“I still view the risk of a large-scale conflict as being very high given that we are now one day closer to the absolute deadline,” Ziegler told Ritzau.

“Now that I have added things up, we have not moved a huge amount overall, even though there has been some positive development,” he added.

At the end of last month, FI delayed industrial action by two weeks to give the parties more time to find common ground. If agreement is not reached, strikes could begin on April 22nd, with a subsequent lockout not before April 28th.

A deal on new terms for public sector workers in Denmark must be reached in order to avoid industrial action in the form of a strike and retaliatory 'lockout', which would have a severe effect on public services in the country.

The deal (overenskomst in Danish) affects people employed by the Danish state, municipalities and regional authorities, with a potential labour conflict affecting public services including healthcare, transport, education and the prison service.

Anders Bondo Christensen of the Danish Union of Teachers, lead negotiator for municipal employees, shared the caution expressed by Ziegler, but added there were “a couple of chances left”.

“We still have a couple of chances before the deadline, although it does not look good that we have not gained more from these long hours,” he said.

Christensen was unable to give further details on the obstacles that stood in the way of agreement being reached due to an embargo on making details of the talks public.

“Everyone knows what the general problems are. We will not have a degradation of our pay and working conditions,” he said.

“We are seeing an attack on the things we are entitled to: customary [public] holidays, paid lunch breaks, rights for seniors and so on,” the lead negotiator continued.

Representatives from regional authorities – responsible for the management of large parts of the healthcare sector – are scheduled to meet for negotiations from 10am Monday, with state negotiations to follow at 5pm.

Negotiators from all sides – state, municipal and regional – have been summoned for joint talks on Tuesday at 2pm, Ziegler and Christensen both confirmed.

READ ALSO: Danish public sector workers cancel holidays as 'historic' strike, lockout threaten to become reality

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EXPLAINED: How could government intervene to settle Denmark nurses’ strike?

Over one in four people in Denmark are in favour of political intervention to resolve an ongoing nurses’ strike, but political resolutions to labour disputes are uncommon in the country.

EXPLAINED: How could government intervene to settle Denmark nurses’ strike?
Striking nurses demonstrate in Copenhagen on July 10th. OPhoto: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

In a new opinion poll conducted by Voxmeter on behalf of news wire Ritzau, 27.3 percent said they supported political intervention in order to end the current industrial conflict was has almost 5,000 nurses currently striking across Denmark, with another 1,000 expected to join the strike next month.

READ ALSO:

Over half of respondents – 52.6 percent – said they do not support political intervention, however, while 20.1 percent answered, “don’t know”.

That may be a reflection of the way labour disputes are normally settled within what is known as the ‘Danish model’, in which high union membership (around 70 percent) amongst working people means unions and employers’ organisations negotiate and agree on wages and working conditions in most industries.

The model, often referred to as flexicurity, is a framework for employment and labour built on negotiations and ongoing dialogue to provide adaptable labour policies and employment conditions. Hence, when employees or employers are dissatisfied, they can negotiate a solution.

But what happens when both sides cannot agree on a solution? The conflict can evolve into a strike or a lockout and, occasionally, in political intervention to end the dispute.

READ ALSO: How Denmark’s 2013 teachers’ lockout built the platform for a far greater crisis

Grete Christensen, leader of the Danish nurses’ union DSR, said she can now envisage a political response.

“Political intervention can take different forms. But with the experience we have of political intervention, I can envisage it, without that necessarily meaning we will get what we are campaigning for,” Christensen told Ritzau.

“Different elements can be put into a political intervention which would recognise the support there is for us and for our wages,” she added.

A number of politicians have expressed support for intervening to end the conflict.

The political spokesperson with the left wing party Red Green Alliance, Mai Villadsen, on Tuesday called for the prime minister Mette Frederiksen to summon party representatives for talks.

When industrial disputes in Denmark are settled by parliaments, a legal intervention is the method normally used. But Villadsen said the nurses’ strike could be resolved if more money is provided by the state.

That view is supported by DSR, Christensen said.

“This must be resolved politically and nurses need a very clear statement to say this means wages will increase,” the union leader said.

“This exposes the negotiation model in the public sector, where employers do not have much to offer because their framework is set out by (parliament),” she explained, in reference to the fact that nurses are paid by regional and municipal authorities, whose budgets are determined by parliament.

DSR’s members have twice voted narrowly to reject a deal negotiated between employers’ representatives and their union.

The Voxmeter survey consists of responses from 1,014 Danish residents over the age of 18 between July 15th-20th.

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