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.

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Danish nurses to continue strike with no deal on horizon

The Danish Nurses' Organisation (Dansk Sygeplejeråd, DSR) has announced its ongoing strike will be continued, with 225 more nurses participating.

Danish nurses to continue strike with no deal on horizon
Danish nurses demonstrate in May 2021 following a breakdown in talks between employers and their union, the DSR. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

The additional nurses will strike from August 17th, the nurses’ union confirmed in a statement.

“Although we are taking a smaller number of nurses on strike this time, it will hurt (us),” DSR chairperson Grete Christensen said in the statement.

“(The strike) will come into effect when departments have returned from their summer holidays and would normally be increasing their activity,” Christensen said.

A strike of 702 nurses from August 10th was announced last week in a previous extension of the ongoing industrial action.

As such, as total of almost 1,000 extra nurses will now take part in the strike in addition to the initial 5,000 that first went on strike last month. That corresponds to around ten percent of the nurses’ union’s total membership.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Denmark nurses’ strike means for you

The nurses are striking after a DSR’s members twice turned down a collective bargaining agreement (overenskomst in Danish) negotiated with representatives of regional and municipal authorities, which are the employers of the nurses.

Later extensions to the strike were blamed by Christensen on inaction on the part of employers’ organisations and politicians.

“Our aim is to motivate employers to come to the negotiating table with more money for nurses and to get politicians at Christiansborg (parliament, ed.) to deliver the necessary framework needed to give nurses reliable promises that many years of lagging wages are going to end,” the union leader said.

Region North Jutland will see most scheduled surgery cancelled due to the strike, with capacity only sufficient for acute procedures.

Meanwhile, the Central Jutland Region will be required to cut back on the provision for free hospital choice, news wire Ritzau reports.

Nurses involved in surgery and anaesthesia will be among those involved in the additional strikes, DSR said.

The industrial conflict is therefore expected to result in delays to operations and other treatments.

According to DSR, around 36,500 health service activities were postponed during the first three weeks of the strike.