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EQUALITY

Why Danes want to boost equality by scrapping a 1969 public sector pay reform

A petition demanding the end of a rule which critics say causes unequal pay between men and women in Denmark’s public sector is to be discussed in parliament.

Why Danes want to boost equality by scrapping a 1969 public sector pay reform
Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The so-called citizens’ petition (borgerforslag) calling for equal pay for public servants in different sectors has reached the necessary 50,000 signatures to qualify for parliamentary discussion.

It took just eight days from the publication of the petition on March 8th for it to hit the 50,000-signature mark, according to news wire Ritzau.

The petition asks lawmakers to revoke a 1969 wage reform, tjenestemandsreformen, which placed public servants on 40 different pay grades, with sectors traditionally seen as dominated by women, such as nursing and childcare, given lower pay than jobs such as teacher or police officer.

Parliament is now required to consider the petition in the form of a bill and the parties must decide which group will officially submit it.

Pernille Skipper, equality spokesperson with the left-wing Red Green Alliance, told Ritzau that the wage hierarchy rules should be reformed.

“The reform is extremely important when it comes to unequal pay,” Skipper said.

“The wage hierarchy from the reform still exists and that means that social workers, nurses, childcarers and others get worse pay than male professions with equivalent education lengths, seniority and competencies,” she added.

Under the model known as the Danish system, salaries are normally decided through collective bargaining agreements (overenskomster in Danish), which are negotiated by trade unions and employers’ associations. Denmark has a high rate of trade union membership at around 70 percent.

Parliament has no involvement in such negotiations except in cases where there is a major breakdown in the talks.

But Skipper called for political action to provide for high wage levels for various public sector professions.

“We are now in a situation in which collective bargaining agreement negotiations probably won’t fix this, and they [the public, ed.] are now turning their focus towards Christiansborg (parliament),” she said, adding she “couldn’t agree more” that politicians should act on the issue.

The 1969 reform can still be seen in unequal salaries, according to Astrid Elkjær Sørensen, a PhD researcher in history at the Danish School of Education (DPU).

There is a “strong connection” between the hierarchy established in 1969 and that seen today, Sørensen told Ritzau.

“When you negotiate collective bargaining agreements, there is an overall salary figure. So if you want to change one group’s salary, the others must hold back (from asking for an increase),” she said.

The Social Democratic government looks unlikely to support the attempt to scrap the decades-old wage hierarchy.

“The way things are in Denmark is that setting of salaries is left to the labour market actors. That is the Danish agreement model. A model which we, time and again, point to as the right method for the Danish labour market,” the party’s employment and equality minister Peter Hummelgaard said at a parliamentary committee on March 10th.

“That’s why the solution to the equal wage problem can and must be found within the Danish model. We shouldn’t break with that,” he added.

The citizens’ petition was put up by “midwives, childcarers, nurses, social workers and academics on behalf of all affected professions,” according to the text of the petition.

READ ALSO: Trust, risk and regulation: how Denmark’s 2013 teachers’ lockout built the platform for a far greater crisis

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EQUALITY

Glimmer of hope for Danish nurses’ conflict with committee set to scrutinise pay

A special committee is to assess wages in Denmark’s public sector, offering hope for long term improvement on wage equality for nurses, who have been protesting over the issue for months.

Nurses during a walkout at Kolding hospital on September 27th. A new committee is to look at the wage structure in Denmark's public sector, offering long term hope for improved wage equality.
Nurses during a walkout at Kolding hospital on September 27th. Photo: Søren Gylling/Jysk Fynske Medier/Ritzau Scanpix

Parliament in August intervened to settle a dispute over a new collective bargaining agreement between the nurses’ trade union DSR and regional health authority employers, ending union-sanctioned strikes which had been ongoing throughout the summer.

Strikes authorised and announced by unions, when negotiations over new working conditions break down, are permitted and recognised as a legitimate part of Denmark’s labour model.

But nurses have continued to protest against the agreement by conducting unauthorised walkouts in September and October. That action remains ongoing despite the Arbejdsretten labour court issuing fines against nurses involved in it and DSR urging them to end the walkouts.

EXPLAINED: Why has the government intervened in Denmark’s nurses strike?

A committee has now been set down to scrutinise wage structures in Denmark’s public sector, offering a glimmer of hope of finding a way out of the deadlock.

Economics professor and former head of the Danish Economic Councils Torben M. Andersen will lead the commission, the Ministry of Employment said in a statement.

In June, nurses voted against accepting the collective bargaining agreement, arguing that wages for their profession are lagging behind pay levels in other fields.

It is that agreement that was later implemented via the government intervention.

The wages committee will analyse pay structures and the consequences of any changes to them. The results of the work are to be presented as soon as possible, although the final deadline is the end of 2022.

Minister for employment and equality Peter Hummelgaard welcomed the appointment of the committee and recognised that Denmark does not have wage equality.

“But we must also recognise that it’s a complex debate and we need to make an informed basis that can form the background to future collective bargaining negotiations in the public sector,” the minister said.

“This is important work which the government obliges itself to follow up on,” he added.

Several professional sectors in Denmark, including nurses, have pointed to a 1969 wage law as the culprit in leaving a lot of female-dominated professions lagging on pay.

The 1969 wage reform, tjenestemandsreformen,  placed public servants on 40 different pay grades, with sectors traditionally seen as dominated by women, such as nursing and childcare, given lower pay than jobs such as teacher or police officer.

A petition demand an end to the decades-old wage hierarchy failed in parliament earlier this year.

READ ALSO: Why Danes want to boost equality by scrapping a 1969 public sector pay reform

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