Danish unions hold out for “excellent” pay deal

Unions representing some 800,000 public sector workers at state, regional and municipal level in Denmark have secured a series of new collective agreements with an overall pay rise of 8.1% over three years. The deal, which must be approved by a ballot of union members, demonstrates that strong unions and determined action deliver results.

Settlement was reached at the very end of April following weeks of negotiations and mediation. When employers failed to make an adequate offer, trade unions announced plans for targeted strike action involving 10%-15% of state and municipal workers. Employers responded by threatening the lock-out of 90% of state and 50% of municipal staff.

However, union solidarity won the day, with the first part of the agreement benefitting around 40,000 workers in regional government. Further deals covering municipal workers and the state sector followed. The overall package for each group of workers varies slightly but is built around an 8.1% rise which includes a general increase of 6.1% over three years. For the rest, 0.71% is earmarked to ensure that public sector wages keep pace with the private sector ­‒ an essential element of the unions’ demands ‒ and 0.35% for local negotiations. The agreement also includes an extra 0.34% for low-paid workers and sectors employing mainly women.

“I am really pleased to say that we have an agreement for everyone. It’s a huge relief,” said trade union negotiator Anders Bondo Christensen. “I really think we have a result that we can be happy with.”

Mona Striib, incoming head of the FOA public services union, described the municipal agreement as “outstanding” and Rita Bundgaard chair of HK/Stat representing state workers spoke of the “excellent support from members throughout the country” helping to achieve “an excellent settlement”. Nurses’ union chair Grete Christensen welcomed in particular the extra funding for low-paid workers and better pay in a number of women-dominated areas.

As well as the pay increase, the deal secures employees’ right to a paid meal break, improvements in maternity leave, holiday entitlement and other benefits, plus further talks on working-time arrangement for teachers.