Nurses in Denmark may go on strike after voting down latest wage deal

As many as 5,000 nurses in Denmark may go on strike this Friday after voting down a salary deal agreed between nursing unions and the regional and local governments that run Denmark's health system.

Greta Christensen, chair of the Danish Nurses Organisation, at a press conference on Monday announcing the result of the vote. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

A full 66.7 percent of the members of the Danish Nurses’ Organization voted down a new agreement struck between their union and Danish Regions and Danish Municipalities, meaning a strike could be called as early as Saturday. 

“This big ‘no’ shows even more clearly that there is a need for some fundamental changes in wage structures,” said Grete Christensen, the nurse organisation’s chair, who had recommended that members vote in favour of the deal.

“We believe that there is hope [of progress]in the salary structure committee, but the pledges were too vague and unclear for the members to see the same hope.”

The deal comes after nurses in April voted down the first version of the wage deal, launching a mediation process that resulted in a new wage agreement that was presented to members on May 18th.

READ ALSO: Denmark faces potential nurses’ strike after deal rejected

After today’s vote, regional and local governments have until midnight on Friday to agree a new, improved wage settlement to prevent at least 5,000 nurses from going on strike.

Marianne Priskorn, one of the nurses who voted “no”, told state broadcaster DR that she wanted a salary commensurate to the level of responsibility she had.

“We have had enough, and now we have put our foot down. We have just been through a pandemic where we have really rolled up our sleeves and shown what we are worth,” She said. “We are now going to get punished for this With virtually no wage development over the next three years. It’s just not right.”

Christensen called on politicians to launch more thoroughgoing actions to alter the wage structure in Denmark.

“That is why it is even more important that politicians become clear in their promises to change the wage structure, especially for the female-dominated professions in the public sector, which have a documented wage gap,” she said.

Nurses working on treating coronavirus patients, cancer, children, or psychiatric patients will not take part in the strike, but patients going in for other treatments may be affected.

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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.


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.