Denmark is known for its flexicurity model. The word ‘flexicurity’ is a contraction of the English words flexibility and security.
Among other things, the Danish labor market is characterized by:
- Making it easy for employers to hire and fire employees, and giving employees the ability to quickly change jobs (flexibility)
- Giving citizens the opportunity to receive benefits or cash assistance if he or she loses a job (security). In addition, citizens can receive offers to help them with work or education if they do not have a job. For example, citizens can receive instruction, job offers or offers of training.
In Denmark most issues on the labor market is determined by extensive agreements between trade unions and employers’ associations. These agreements are called collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining agreements regulate most factors in the labor market, such as wages, working hours, sick pay and maternity pay and pension and the right to continuing training.
In Denmark, the government does not involve itself as much in the affairs of the labor market as is the case in many other countries. E.g., Parliament does not determine the workweek. Nor does Parliament determine that there must be a certain minimum wage on the Danish labor market. The fact that many conditions on the labor market are determined by the partners of the labor market and not by Parliament is often called ‘the Danish model’.
Still, collective agreements do not cover all areas. For example, many highly educated employees in the private sector, such as engineers, economists, and lawyers are not covered by collective agreements and
therefore typically must negotiate their wages and conditions of employment when they are hired.
The unions take care of professional interests of their members in the workplace. This applies to things like wages and working conditions and cooperation with management. Members pay dues to the union.
According to longstanding Danish tradition, a large part of the employees is union members. In Denmark, about 67 per cent of all employees now belong to a union. This is a high rate compared to many other countries.
The members of a union selects one or more union representatives at each workplace. Union representatives are elected from among the employees at a meeting, which the employer does not attend. Shop stewards have special protection against being fired or moved to another site.
Shop stewards represent the employees to management, in cases like wage negotiations. Employees can also get advice and guidance from the shop steward about such things as overtime or relationship to management. A union representative – or colleagues at work – cannot legally force people to be members of a particular union or to be a member of a union. People decide for themselves if they want to be members of a union.
The meetings of a trade union in the workplace are called “club meetings”. Here all workplace members of the union meet up. At club meetings, they discuss different conditions in the workplace, such as wages or wage supplements, and this is also where the shop stewards are selected. At the meeting, any member can run for election to union representative. If more people run, a vote will decide who is chosen.
When You Get Work
The law says that anyone who works more than eight hours a week, must have proof of hire within one month of being hired.
Among other things, the employer must include any agreements according to wages, workplace, work hours, starting time, holidays, notice of termination, etc. If the employment is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, the employer must disclose this as well.
In hiring, the employer may only pay attention to the qualifications necessary to perform the job. When someone applies for a job, then, the employer may not ask about the person’s health and the number of sick days in the previous job, or whether a person is pregnant or plans to have children. The employer, however, may ask about health conditions that are important for the work that needs to be performed. For instance, the employer may ask if you have had a bad back, if you are looking for a job in the construction industry. The employee has an inverted duty to disclose medical conditions that may affect the job. The employer may not ask about people’s religion, when they apply for a job.
In Denmark, there is no minimum wage legislation. Salaries are agreed to in collective bargaining agreements. The vast majority of collective bargaining agreements in the private sector establish only a minimum wage within the industry covered by the agreement. In other words, there will often be a debate in the individual work place on what the actual wages will be. In many cases, a union representative will contract the actual pay with management. If there is no union representative at your workplace, you can sometimes ask to talk with a union leader regarding wages.
If you are employed in the public sector, the salary is typically agreed to centrally between the unions and public employers (nation, regions and municipalities).
If you have a regular paid job in a private or public company, you most commonly work 37 hours a week. In case of shift work and night work, the fixed working hours are often slightly lower. The length of the work hours is agreed to by collective bargaining between the workers’ and employers’ organizations. 37 hours is a rather low number of weekly work hours compared to many other countries. On the other hand, it is very common in Denmark for both spouses to work full time.
If you work less than the normal working hours of 37 hours a week, usually, this is called ‘reduced time’ or ‘part-time’. In some fields, part- time work is common, for example for nurses or store employees. More women than men work part time.
You can always ask to work reduced hours. Nevertheless, the employer decides whether to permit you to do so. Conversely, the employer is not allowed to require that you go part-time.
Normally, arrangements are made with the employer regarding when to take a vacation. Usually, you have the right to a three-week vacation within the period between May 1 and September 30.
When you get a new job, you can take the leave that has been earned with a previous employer, but not used.
Maternity, Paternity, and Parental Leave
There are some special rules for how long you can take leave in connection with childbirth, and how much financial assistance you can get. The general rule of law is that the mother is entitled to four weeks’ pregnancy leave before the birth and 14 weeks after the birth. Fathers are entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave. Then the parents are each entitled to 32 weeks of parental leave or a combined 64 weeks.
It is possible to receive public financial support (maternity pay), in connection with pregnancy, maternity, paternity, and parental leave. During parental leave, parents are entitled to 32 weeks maternity benefits combined.
If you are employed under a collective bargaining agreement, you may be entitled to paid leave. It may also be listed in your employment contract.
Democracy in the Workplace
On larger jobs, there must be a Cooperation Committee where representatives of management and employees discuss various matters in the workplace. The employees’ union representatives are members of the Cooperation Committee.
On larger jobs, you must also choose an occupational health and safety representative safeguards the work environment, i.e. employees’ physical and psychological safety.
The employees at a meeting choose the occupational health and safety representative where management does not participate. As stewards, health and safety representatives are protected in their employment. This means that the employer cannot fire an OHS representative because the employer and the health and safety representative disagree about the work environment.
In Denmark, a lot of participation in workplace decision making takes place informally. If people have something they are unhappy about or want to suggest, they normally talk to their immediate supervisor about it.
Rules for Firing
In most cases an employer must have an objective and real reason to fire an employee, for example, that the person is unfit for the job, that there are cooperation problems, or that there are issues with the company that requires the firing, such as cutbacks. If there is a union rep in the workplace, the employer must often speak to him or her about the firing.
An employer may not fire an employee because of sex, race, color, religion or belief, political inclinations, sexual orientation, age, disability, or national, social, or ethnic origin. Firing people because of pregnancy or childbirth is also not allowed.
An employee may not be fired because the employee chooses not to be a member of a union, or because the employee joins a union. An employee may not be fired because he or she is not a member of the
same union as their colleagues in the workplace, and the employer may not require membership in a particular trade union.
If a Person Loses his or her Job
In Denmark, signing up for unemployment insurance for financial security is optional. You are not insured financially in case of unemployment, unless you are a member of an Unemployment Fund (arbejdsløshedskasse or a-kasse in Danish). Unemployment Funds are private organizations, and most people are members of Unemployment Funds. About 70% of employees in Denmark belong to an Unemployment Fund.
If you are not a member of an Unemployment Fund, you can get financial help (cash assistance) from your local municipality if you lose your job. However, this is predicated on fulfilling certain conditions.
The Unemployment Fund is an insurance system that ensures against the financial consequences of unemployment. The individual pays a membership fee, and in return typically receives support, i.e. unemployment benefits, in case of becoming unemployed. Unemployment Funds receive public financial assistance, so a large portion of the benefits is paid not just out of the membership fees, but also of public funds, i.e. through taxes. Most Unemployment Funds are closely associated with the unions, but you can be a member of an Unemployment Fund, even if you are not a member of a trade union. There are also Unemployment Funds that are not linked to specific unions.
If you are a member of an Unemployment Fund, you normally have the right to unemployment benefits for a period of time, if you lose your job. However, you must be available to work. This means, among other things, that you accept, if you are offered a job, and that you must actively seek employment. You are called to a meeting at the local job center, when you begin to receive benefits. This is to create a job plan with the job center. A job plan is a written agreement between the job center and the unemployed. It contains a description of what you can do to get a job (write applications, perhaps attend training courses, etc.) and a timetable. The purpose is to get an unemployed person back to work as quickly as possible.
In order to receive benefits, you have a duty to comply with the job plan. Along with interviews at the job center, you will also have interviews with the Unemployment Fund.
If you are not a member of an Unemployment Fund, you may receive educational stipends or cash assistance from your local municipality. However, this requires that you meet certain conditions – for example that you are not a dependent of your spouse or partner. The amounts of these two benefits are usually lower than unemployment benefits. And you have a duty to participate in the offers provided by the municipality.
Usually it is also possible to get temporary assistance in case of illness.
If you want to be self-employed, you must register with the Business Authority through their website and provide some information. You can seek advice about what it is like to be self-employed from a growth consultant who has extensive experience in helping people with starting a business.
You can also contact the local business advisor in the municipality. Furthermore, there are municipal courses for people who want to be self-employed. Through these courses, you can learn about economics, accounting, or human resources. Being self-employed, you are, among other things, obligated to keep accounts, and the company’s profits or losses must be reported to the Danish tax board, SKAT.