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WORKING IN DENMARK

Danish parliament rejects EU minimum wage directive

The government in Denmark has been given parliament backing to reject an EU directive on minimum wages.

Denmark's acting employment minister Mattias Tesfaye. The country is opposed to a standardised EU minimum wage.
Denmark's acting employment minister Mattias Tesfaye. The country is opposed to a standardised EU minimum wage. Photo: Ólafur Steinar Rye Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

Acting employment minister Mattias Tesfaye confirmed the situation after a meeting with parliament’s EU committee on Thursday.

“I’m glad parliament agrees with the government that we must protect the Danish model with free negotiations over wages on the labour market,” Tesfaye said.

A legal minimum wage is generally an unpopular concept in Danish politics because it clashes with the country’s traditional labour model, in which wages are determined through collective bargaining agreements between trade unions and employer representation. That is facilitated by a high level of union membership.

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

The directive only applies to EU countries which already have minimum wage laws, meaning Denmark and neighbouring Sweden are excluded.

But Denmark’s opposition to the directive nevertheless sends an important signal, according to Tesfaye.

Additionally, both Denmark and Sweden are concerned that minimum wage could eventually be enforced should a person who works in either country take the issue to the EU court.

Tesfaye, of the ruling Social Democratic party, claimed he appreciated the purpose of the directive, which was negotiated between the EU parliament, EU Commission and member states,

“I can understand that other countries are concerned about what is going on on their labour markets with low wages where people can’t live a dignified life,

“But we have found a better model in Denmark and it is worth protecting and it must not be destroyed by a common European directive,” the minister said.

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WORKING IN DENMARK

Can foreigners lose their Danish work permits if they take part in strikes?

Membership of a trade union in Denmark can occasionally result in your union requiring you to take part in industrial action by going on strike. But can that put foreign workers at risk of losing their work permits?

Can foreigners lose their Danish work permits if they take part in strikes?

Around two-thirds of people in employment in Denmark are members of a trade union.

Union membership forms a core part of Denmark’s “Danish model” by which the labour market regulates itself through collective bargaining agreements between the trade unions and employer organisations.

These agreements form the basis of salaries – rather than laws – and also ensure standards for working hours and vacation time under the agreements made in various labour market sectors.

As such, it’s common to be a union member in Denmark and foreign nationals working in the country are also likely to find it in their interests to join a union.

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One aspect of union membership is that members may be required to participate in industrial action, such as strikes, blockades, or solidarity actions.

For example, the 2021 Danish nurses strike organised by the Danish Nurses’ Organisation (DSR), which represents 95 percent of nurses in Denmark.

“The nurses’ strike is an example of the results of unsuccessful negotiations on the renewal of their collective agreement,” Peter Waldorff, international consultant at FH, Denmark’s largest trade union confederation, told The Local.

In this case, he continued, DSR called the strike and decided which members would be required to withdraw from work to join the strike. As the strike continued from June to August 2021 (one of the longest strikes in recent Danish history), an increasing number of union members were called to strike until the dispute was resolved. 

In such a situation, it is conceivable that some of the workers asked to take part in the strike would be foreign nationals from countries outside of the EU or EEA, who need a work permit to take employment in Denmark.

READ ALSO: How can you get a work permit in Denmark if you are not an EU national?

Foreign employees who are union members would participate in the strike just as Danish members would.

Although the employees involved in the strike would stop receiving their salaries they would instead receive conflict aid from the union, “meaning the person would not need to receive dagpenge or other social aid,” Stine Lund, senior legal consultant at the Danish Society of Engineers (IDA), a trade union for engineering, science, and IT professionals, told The Local

That is an important distinction for internationals working in Denmark because receiving social benefits can impact the ability to fulfil work permit criteria.

The employer would also be required to re-employ all employees once the conflict is resolved, Lund added. 

According to FH’s legal department, Waldorff said, participation in legally-called industrial action should not affect work permits. 

The Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) confirmed this to be the case.

“Third-country citizens will not have their residence permit revoked on the basis of employment, if they don’t work at their employer due to the reason that they participate in a legal labour dispute during their employment. EU/EEA citizens residing in Denmark will not lose their right to reside in Denmark on the basis of participating in a legal labour dispute,” SIRI said in a statement to The Local.

Although foreign workers can be asked to strike, the likelihood they will have to remains relatively low.

“In Denmark, strikes are relatively rare,” Waldorff said.

In the academic labour market, collective agreement conflicts almost never happen, according to Lund.

“We haven’t been in a situation where that measure has been taken for many, many years,” she said.

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