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Working in Denmark For Members

EXPLAINED: What is a Danish collective bargaining agreement?

Sarah Redohl
Sarah Redohl - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: What is a Danish collective bargaining agreement?
The 2021 Danish nurses' strike was a result of members of the Danish nurses' trade union voting to reject a new collective bargaining agreement or 'overenskomst'. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

You might have heard of the Danish word “overenskomst”, meaning collective bargaining agreement -- especially if you are a trade union member in the Nordic country. But what exactly is meant by the term?

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Work life balance, high salaries, and ample vacation time are but a few benefits with which foreigners working in Denmark are familiar. 

And yet, many would be surprised to learn that these benefits aren’t protected by Danish law. Instead, they are the result of collective bargaining agreements between Denmark’s trade unions and employers or employer organisations. 

“There aren’t many laws regulating the Danish labour market,” Mads Storgaard Pedersen, consultant and assistant attorney at the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI), told The Local.

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Instead, trade unions negotiate with employers’ organisations every few years to develop collective bargaining agreements regulating (overenskomster in Danish) many aspects of Denmark’s labour market, from wages to paid parental leave. 

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners in Denmark need to know about Danish trade unions

Linguistically, to be overens means to be in agreement with or match something, while the -komst suffix is derived from the verb at komme – to come or to arrive.

An overenskomst, then, is the arrival at an agreement. It is used specifically in the context of negotiations between unions and employers’ organisations.

The agreement itself is a contract which regulates wages, for example stipulating that all employees with a certain job title must receive a salary within a certain pay band, as well as holiday allowance, overtime pay, working hours, and other benefits.

It’s when negotiations over these agreements break down that action like strikes and lockouts occur, at the direction of the trade unions or employers’ organisations. Strikes and lockouts are a legal part of the Danish model, provided they are under the auspices of the organisations and not “wildcat” or unsanctioned strikes.

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

A lesser-known fact about the Danish labour model is that employees covered by collective bargaining agreements won’t have to negotiate general employment terms – regardless of whether they are trade union members.

“Although two-thirds of Denmark’s workers are union members, 82 percent are covered by collective agreements,” Peter Waldorff, international consultant at FH, Denmark’s largest trade union confederation, told The Local.

“As long as a workplace has a collective agreement, it covers both members and non-members,” he explained.

There are large central agreements in both the public and private sectors. Employees whose contracts are regulated by a collective bargaining agreement won’t individually have to negotiate general terms of employment, like working hours or a minimum salary. 

The particular collective agreement upon which your contract is based may be mentioned in your contract, and if it isn’t, Waldorff said it’s perfectly fine to ask your employer. 

“There is not the same level of union busting in Denmark as there are in some other countries,” he said.

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