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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Danish parliament again throws out lawmaker for bringing baby

For the second time in recent years, a member of the Danish parliament has been asked to leave the parliament after bringing their infant with them to a debate.

Danish politician Pernille Skipper with her baby in parliament on October 7th 20201. Skipper was asked to leave the chamber with her infant.
Danish politician Pernille Skipper with her baby in parliament on October 7th 20201. Skipper was asked to leave the chamber. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix

Pernille Skipper of the Red Green Alliance was asked during Thursday’s opening debate to leave the parliamentary chamber with her baby. Pia Kjærsgaard, former leader of the Danish People’s Party, was in the Speaker’s chair at the time.

Skipper confirmed to news wire Ritzau that the episode had occurred but added no further comment.

On Twitter, the former lead political spokesperson for the Red Green Alliance sarcastically described her “quiet, sleeping baby” as “Pia Kjærsgaard’s biggest headache”.

According to newspaper Politiken’s report, Kjærsgaard asked Skipper to leave the room via two post-it notes which were passed on to her by an assistant.

It is not the first time Kjærsgaard has been involved in throwing a mother and infant out of a parliamentary debate.

In March 2019, she ordered Conservative MP Mette Abildgaard to remove her infant daughter from parliament’s chamber, sparking surprise in a country often hailed as a pioneer in women’s rights and resulting in international media reporting the episode.

The former Danish People’s Party leader defended the decision and said other parliamentarians agreed with her.

“We’ve just recently spoken about this in the presidium because several members of parliament have raised with us that Pernille Skipper has brought her baby with her on repeated occasions,” she told newspaper Ekstra Bladet.

“Everyone knows that you just don’t do that. So I’m surprised it was necessary to reaffirm this to her. Everyone knows about this,” she added.

Kjærsgaard is not the speaker of parliament (although she has previously served in the role) but is a member of the presidium, meaning she can step in to take over speaker duties when the current Speaker, Social Democrat Henrik Dam Kristensen, is not present.

In a written comment to broadcaster DR, Kristensen said Kjærsgaard’s actions were by the book.

“The presidium took in 2019 the decision that babies don’t belong in the parliament chamber. That decision has not been changed,” he said.

In 2016, an Icelandic lawmaker made headlines after breastfeeding her infant while speaking at the podium in parliament. In the same year, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern became a symbol for working mothers when she brought her baby to the UN General Assembly in New York.

READ ALSO: Babies not welcome in parliament, Danish speaker says