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WORKING IN DENMARK

EXPLAINED: What is a Danish collective bargaining agreement?

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?

The 2021 Danish nurses' strike
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

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.

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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For members

WORKING IN DENMARK

What wages can you expect to earn in Denmark?

At an average of €46.90/hour, workers in Denmark earn the highest hourly wage in the European Union. But how do different professions stack up?

What wages can you expect to earn in Denmark?

Using Statistics Denmark data from 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, the Local Denmark has compiled a table with a sampling of average salaries across industries. We’ve rounded to the nearest hundred kroner and used the average exchange rate for 2020 to determine yearly salary in euros (again rounding to the nearest hundred euros). 

And remember, these numbers are before SKAT — the Danish tax agency — takes its cut. Income tax rates in Denmark are progressive and vary based on where you live, with Copenhagen income taxes ranging from a floor of 37 percent to a maximum of 53 percent. 

READ MORE: Why is Denmark opposed to an EU minimum wage? 

Service Industry and Tourism 

Snopes, the viral internet fact-checking site, famously validated claims that Danish McDonald’s workers in Denmark earn over US$20 an hour, which many Americans rejected as impossible. But possible it is — waiters and bartenders make an average of more than 26,000 kroner a month, and all without tips! 

Waiters and bartenders 26,800 kroner/month  €43,100 per year
Cleaners (private, hotel, and office) 29,000  €46,700
Hotel managers  49,500  €79,600
Restaurant managers  61,800  €99,400
Hotel receptionists  31,000  €49,900

READ MORE: What’s the tipping culture in Denmark? 

Healthcare 

As of the first quarter of 2022, just under 198,000 people in Denmark were working in healthcare, accounting for seven percent of the entire labour force. Nurses are in particular demand after a wave of resignations following strikes in summer of 2021. 

Medical doctors 63,600 kroner/month €102,300 per year
Specialists  87,800  €141,200
Nurses 42,200 €67,900
Midwives  41,000  €65,900
Dentists  61,200  €98,400
Pharmacists 65,500  €105,400
Psychologists 48,300  €77,700

READ MORE: Denmark must do more to avoid shortage of nurses: health authority

Education 

Denmark offers public education for toddlers all the way though to graduate students, and has the bills to back it up. In 2020, Denmark invested more than 6 percent of its total GDP in education, according to Eurostat. 

University and higher education teachers   49,600 kroner/month €79,800 per year
Vocational education teacher  43,700  €70,300
Secondary education teachers  50,300  €80,900
Primary school  and early childhood  41,000  €66,000
Language teachers 47,500  €76,400

Creative Industries  

International hits like Borgen and the Chestnut Man have made Danish actors household names. But screenwriters, producers and other industry creatives have been pushing for fairer rights-sharing and compensation agreements with streaming giants like Netflix — with mixed results. 

Photographers  39,000 kroner/month €62,700 / year
Authors, journalists and linguists  49,000  €78,800
Graphic and multimedia designers 40,400 €65,000
Public relations 48,400 €77,900
Advertising and marketing  49,000 €78,800
Film, stage, and related directors and producers 43,900 €70,600

READ MORE: How streaming is pushing Danish film to breaking point 

Technology and IT 

Software developers  57,600 kroner/month €92,700 / year
Web and multimedia developers  47,700 €76,700
Applications programmers  60,000 €96,500

Engineering 

Just like any other country, engineers in Denmark take home a tidy sum, with mining engineers leading the pack. 

Mechanical Engineers 59,000 kroner/month €94,900 / year
Chemical Engineers 65,000 €104,600
Mining engineers, metallurgists and related professionals  82,600 €132,900
Electronics engineers  61,200 €98,400

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

Miscellaneous 

To round out our list, we’ve chosen some roles you might encounter in your everyday life, or in a Richard Scarry illustration. You can explore the full data sheet provided by Statistics Denmark here

Lawyers 65,600 €105,500 / year
Air traffic controllers  72,000 €115,800
Airplane pilots 81,600 €131,300
Veterinarians  53,000 €85,300
Police officers 42,700 €68,700
Building and related trades workers (excluding electricians) 38,200 €61,500
Painters 34,200 €55,000
Car, taxi and van drivers  30,100 €48,400
Garbage and recycling collectors 39,000 €62,700
Bus and tram drivers 32,500 €52,279

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