Worker participation - Denmark

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Lothar Lißner, Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE GmbH, Germany


Introduction

This article goes beyond worker involvement in management processes; it broadens the scope to look at how OSH information and consultation is dealt with in Denmark. This is examined at three levels: national, sector and company.

In Denmark, pay and working conditions are typically laid down by collective agreements concluded between trade unions and employers' organizations. This system of labour market regulation is referred to as the Danish Model. This is also the case with regards to Occupational Safety and Health issues.

This article describes both direct and indirect forms of participation, with the focus on formal participation structures (legal instruments).

Regulatory framework for worker participation

Background

Denmark has a well-developed system of social dialogue, with high levels of employee representation in the workplace through works councils and trade union delegates. [1] The number of trade union representatives elected at any workplace depends on the number of employees, as well as the precise details of the collective agreement covering the industry; typically there is trade union representative for every 50 or more employees. Most agreements state that employees have the right to elect such a representative if there are more than five employees in the workplace.

Because of the structure of Danish unions, there are often several unions in a single workplace, and several representatives, accordingly. In larger workplaces, the representatives often elect a joint trade union representative. Aside from union representatives, in companies with 10 or more staff, a safety representative must be elected by the employees (in their respective departments, if applicable). [2]

Legislation

The EU Information and Consultation Directive was implemented in Denmark in collective agreements in the public, financial and agricultural sector, and also in supplementary legislation. Traditionally, directives in Denmark are implemented through the system of collective agreements. However, only 85% of workers are covered by such collective agreements, so supplementary legislation was added to ensure coverage for the entire workforce under a single set of rules. This means that the minimum requirements of the Directive are guaranteed for all employees.

Denmark has had regulation on worker protection since 1873 when a government authority - the Danish Working Environment Authority (WEA) [3] - was set up to supervise compliance with the Act.

The first Act included a number of special rules on work performed by children and young persons in factories and workshops. Rules on guarding machinery were later introduced and, in 1913, Denmark passed a Factory Act. The aim of the Act was to prevent accidents and diseases caused by factory work. In 1954, the legislation was extended to include general workers’ protection.

In 1975, the working environment rules were consolidated into a single Act, the Danish Working Environment Act, which applies to all in-situ work, in particular, work done for an employer. The central part of the Act is the extended safety and health concept, which means that all factors causing accidents, sickness and attrition must be taken into consideration in the prevention work.

The current Working Environment Act was passed in 2010. [3]

Information and consultation

At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are contained in Article 19 of ILO Convention C-155 [4]. Article 12 of the (non-binding) ILO Recommendation R-164 [5] describes more specific rights and options for employees and their representatives with respect to worker participation. Recommendation R-129 contains general recommendations on communication between employers and workers. [6]

The European Directive 2002/14/EC [7] establishes a general legal framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community. The directive makes it a requirement for employers to inform and consult employees via the workers’ representatives in the company, in three specific areas:

  • the recent and probable development of the company’s activities and economic situation
  • the situation, structure and probable development of employment, and any anticipatory measures envisaged
  • decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations

The EU information and consultation Directive was implemented in Denmark via a dual method: a) as part of the ground-breaking March 2005 Cooperation Agreement (Samarbejdsaftalen) between the Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) and the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO); and b) through legislation for informing and consulting employees (Act 2005-05-02 no 303, 2 May 2005). This dual method of implementing EU labour market Directives has been used in Denmark since the implementation of the working time Directive in 2000; the EU Commission decided it was not acceptable that Directives in Denmark were only implemented through the system of collective agreements, since only 85% of the workforce were covered by such agreements. The Directive was implemented through collective agreements in the public, financial and agricultural sectors. In 1996, the MED agreement for the public sector was signed. MED - Agreement on Co-influence and Co-determination – is a framework agreement highlighting ways to combine the cooperative system with the health & safety system. [8]

The main legislation Legislation for worker information and consultation on OSH at the European level is the OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC [9]. Worker participation is a fundamental part of the OSH management framework promoted in this directive.

In Denmark, occupational safety and health is regulated by the Danish Act on Working Environment and Cooperation at the Workplace. The Danish Working Environment Authority carries out inspections of companies, draws up more detailed rules on health and safety at work, and provides information on this topic. The result of each inspection is made public on the Danish Working Environment Authority website. This means that the general public, current and prospective employees, customers and other stakeholders can check if an organization has passed the inspection. The Danish Working Environment Act is a framework act, laying down the general objectives and requirements for the working environment. The act aims at preventing accidents and diseases at the workplace and protecting children and young persons on the labour market through special rules.

The main areas of legislation concern how work is carried out, workplace design, technical equipment, substances and materials, rest periods and young persons under the age of 18.

The Working Environment Act emphasises that individual workplaces should be designed in a way which will prevent employees from being forced to leave the labour market due to attrition and stress. Factors which could lead to short or long-term health risks of a physical or mental character must be remedied.

Developments in society constantly change working conditions, e.g. introduction of new technologies, and the Act obliges companies to keep their working environment in conformity with such developments.

It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the working conditions are safe and sound, and also to ensure that employees receive adequate work instructions and participate in OSH cooperation. Furthermore, they must use the protective equipment provided by the employer. [10]

OSH and worker participation

Denmark has a long tradition of tripartite social dialogue in the field of working environment and working conditions. At national level, the employers association (DA) and Central Labour organisation negotiate a basic agreement (Hovedaftalen) and a cooperation agreement (Samarbejdsaftalen). These national agreements serve as a framework for sectoral agreements.

Direct participation of workers in connection with safety and well-being

In Danish workplaces, OSH matters are resolved by employees and management in cooperation. The employer has ultimate responsibility for occupational safety, but employees also have influence and share responsibility, e.g. following occupational safety rules, ensuring that their work poses neither danger to themselves or others.

The employer must provide instruction for performing work in a manner that avoids unnecessary strain. If the work is dangerous, the employee must receive instruction in occupational safety and personal protective equipment, and the workplace must provide personal protective equipment that fits the employee and is suited to the work.

Cross-industry level

Labour conditions are largely negotiated by collective agreements between the social partners. Tripartite social dialogue in the field of working environment and working conditions is a well-established element of Danish society. The OSH strategies were, in many aspects, developed by social partners in dialogues.

The Danish Working Environment Council

The Danish Working Environment Council has a role as an advisor to the Minister for Employment regarding occupational safety and health. The Council discusses how OSH can be improved, and drafts proposals for the minister regarding regulation or system changes.

Composition The Council consists of representatives from major labour unions and employers´ associations. The members are appointed by the minister and serve a period of four years. [11] Following a recommendation from the Working Environment Council, the Minister of Employment approved eleven Sectoral Working Environment Councils, which have been established to help find solutions to health and safety problems within specific sectors. Employees and employers´ organisations within the sectors covered by the individual councils shall each appoint an equal number of members to the council. The task of these individual sector-specific councils is to assist individual companies within the sector in resolving working environment issues.

The Council of Appeal on Health and Safety at Work

The Council of Appeal on Health and Safety at Work deals with appeals (complaints) against decisions of the Danish Working Environment Authority in relation to the Danish Working Environment Act.

If the complainant does not succeed fully, the Danish Working Environment Authority has to send the matter to the Council of Appeal on Health and Safety at Work, together with an opinion.

Composition The Council of Appeal on Health and Safety at Work consists of a chairman and 13 Council members. 5 of the members represent employees, and are appointed by the largest trade unions. 5 members represent employers, and are appointed by the largest employers' associations, the state employers, and the union of supervisors. The chairman and these ten members all have voting rights.

The remaining 3 members are technical specialists: an industrial physician, a legal adviser, and a technician. They are appointed by the Ministries of Health and Prevention, Justice, and the Technical University of Denmark, respectively. These 3 specialists do not have voting rights.

If a complainant is still dissatisfied, they may turn to the Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman, or institute legal proceedings in the law courts. [12]

Sectoral level

Based on the above-mentioned national agreements, most of the negotiations on wages, working time and working conditions take place at sectoral level. The sectoral agreements are then implemented by the companies in each sector. The Minister of Employment also appoints a number of Sectoral Working Environment Councils, set up to find solutions to health and safety problems within specific industries. Organisations (from the sectors) for both employees and employers appoint an equal number of members to the council. Councils help individual companies within the sector resolve working environment issues.

The working Environment Information Centre

The Working Environment Information Centre serves as a national knowledge centre. It obtains and communicates knowledge about the working environment from Danish companies, projects and research studies. [11]

Company level

Employee representation at company level is mainly through shop stewards and the Cooperation Committee (works councils). [12] In the public sector, these are called ‘co-determination committees’ (MED-udvalg). They consist of an equal number of representatives from employees and management. The employee representatives are elected, as is the case with the shop steward. The Health and Safety Committee exists in parallel, and acts as the specific committee for OSH issues.

Health and Safety Committees

The Working Environment Act regulates the tasks, election and composition of Health and Safety committees. Article 6 states that in “enterprises with 10-34 employees, cooperation on health and safety shall be organised in a health and safety organisation composed of one or more supervisors and one or more elected health and safety representatives, with the employer or a representative of the employer as chairman.”

The health and safety committee is responsible for day-to-day OSH tasks and general company OSH policy. In larger enterprises (with 35 or more employees), these tasks are assigned to committee subgroups: One responsible for day-to-day OSH matters, the second for overall tasks.

Unions and works councils

Unions are central to workplace representation in Denmark. Local union representatives take up employees’ concerns with management and are often also members of the main information and consultation body – the cooperation committee.

The trade unions, with their high membership levels, provide the main basis of workplace representation in Denmark. The trade union representative (tillidsrepræsentant) takes up workers' day-to day concerns with the employer and usually has a mandate to bargain locally on pay, working time arrangements and other issues. Trade union representatives also have priority with regard to the representation of employees on the Danish equivalent of the works council - the cooperation committee. (They are also sometimes elected as safety representatives and as members of the separate health and safety committees, although this is not typical.) This representation has a legal basis in the binding collective agreements between the employers' federation and the unions. Trade union representatives' rights are set out in broad terms in a national agreement, with the detailed position for each industry set out in industry-specific agreements. There are also, as mentioned above, ‘cooperation committees’ - the equivalent of works councils in Denmark. Their rights and duties are set out in a national agreement between the LO and DA covering most of the private sector. There are separate agreements for agriculture and finance, and in the public sector there are separate agreements for central government, and for local and regional government.

Numbers and structure The number of trade union representatives elected at any workplace depends on the number of employees, as well as the precise details of the collective agreement covering the industry. Typically there is one trade union representative for every 50 or so employees. Most agreements state that employees have the right to elect a trade union representative once the number of employees in the workplace reaches five or more. Because of the structure of Danish unions, there are often several unions in a single workplace, and, accordingly, there are several representatives. In larger workplaces, the representatives often elect a joint trade union representative.

How this works in reality has been examined in a recent study for LO by the employment research centre, FAOS [13] It found that 52% of all workplaces with five or more employees had a union representative. In those with 50 or more employees, the figure was at least 83%. However, it noted there was a sharp divide between the public sector, where 91% of workplaces with five or more employees had a union representative, and the private sector, where the figure was just 33%. In larger workplaces (50 or more employees), all public sector workplaces had a union representative, but in the private sector the figures varied: 65% (50 - 99 employees), 81% (100 - 249 employees), and 91% (250+ employees).

Cooperation committees

Cooperation committees, to which trade union representatives belong, are joint bodies consisting of equal numbers of employee and management representatives. They should be set up in all companies with 35 or more employees, if requested by the employer or a majority of employees. In practice, the main employers’ association, DA, estimates that 70% of eligible companies do in fact have a cooperation committee. The membership of the cooperation committee, as set out in the LO-DA agreement, is as follows:

Table 1: Size of the enterprise and members of the cooperation committee

Number employed Number of employee representatives


35-50 2
51-100 3
101-200 4
201-500 5
501-1,000 6
Above 1,000

the numbers may be increased by agreement.

Source: overview by the authors

The employee representatives consist of trade union representatives from the workplace, combined in some cases with other elected employees. In February 2004, the LO and the main employers’ association, DA, agreed to revise the agreement on cooperation committees to take account of the EU directive on information and consultation (2002/14/EC). The change allows employee groups outside the LO to be represented in the cooperation committee. The management representatives, who also include supervisory staff, are partly appointed by management and partly selected by the supervisory staff (where one of the supervisory unions have members in a workplace, at least one is included among the management representatives). The cooperation committee is chaired by the senior representative of management, with the deputy chair coming from the employee representatives. Where the unions have elected a joint representative, they automatically become deputy chair. The secretary is jointly elected by the two groups.

Tasks and rights – the communication of participation

The role of trade union representatives includes: ensuring that the existing collective agreements are properly applied; taking up individual issues with the employer; acting as a focal point for union activity, such as campaigns and recruitment; and, increasingly, being involved in workplace level negotiations. In larger workplaces, the union members may come together as a workplace grouping, a "club", with a joint club if there is more than one union. Part of the work of the trade union representatives will be to play a leading role in these groupings. In addition to these tasks, trade union representatives are under obligation to endeavour to "maintain and promote cooperation between the employer and the employees at the workplace". The main task of the cooperation committee, as defined in the agreement under which they are set up, is "to promote cooperation throughout the enterprise, for the benefit of the enterprise as such and the individual employee". In practice, the cooperation committee has information and consultation rights. It is also the forum through which the two sides attempt to reach agreement on a range of issues. But it does not have the effective veto powers which works councils in some countries possess. The cooperation committee should be informed by management on the financial position of the business and its future prospects, including likely future sales and production issues. It should be given information on the employment outlook and any major changes or reorganization planned, such as the introduction of new technology. The cooperation committee is also required to assess the impact of new technology, when its introduction is planned on a large scale. It should also, as a result of a 1991 supplement to the LO-DA agreement, be informed about gender equality developments. In order to ensure that employee views can be taken into consideration by management, information should be provided "sufficiently early to allow employees to put forward viewpoints, ideas and proposals ... before any decision is made". Employee representatives are also expected to provide information, which is somewhat uncommon: they should keep the cooperation committee informed about working conditions. The cooperation committee is also the body through which employer and employee representatives attempt to reach agreement on a series of policy principles. These include company HR and personnel policy, including gender equality, training and re-training for new technology, the use of personal data, and production methods and major changes to the business. However, the cooperation committee is excluded from any role in negotiating collective agreements on pay or other issues dealt with by employers and union representatives. Where agreement is not possible, either side may attempt to reach a settlement by consulting the ‘Cooperation Board’ - a national joint union/employer body for promoting cooperation. The final decision, however, rests with management. The cooperation committee should not operate in isolation from the rest of the workforce. One of its key roles is to pass information on to employees.

Working conditions - social dialogue

Social dialogue on working conditions takes place at all levels, and there are many examples of good practice of successful dialogue resulting in workplace changes. Management representatives tend to be more positive than employees towards initiatives for improving the working environment.

Traditionally, safety committees discuss the physical working environment more often than the psychosocial environment. Since 2001, however, social dialogue on the psychosocial working environment has been an issue for the cooperation committees, which (unlike the safety committees) are based on collective agreements.

The regulatory framework is the Cooperation Agreement, which is found in all sectors. The current tendency is that the non-technical areas – e.g. psychosocial issues - within the scope of the work environment are taken up in the voluntary collective bargaining system, prevalent in Denmark. [2]

References

  1. Ministry of Employment (no date). The Danish Labour Market. Retrieved 18 March 2013, from: [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fulton, L., Worker representation in Europe, Labour Research Department and ETUI, (based on: Larsen, T., Navrbjerg. S. & Johansen M., Tillidsrepræsentantundersøgelsen 2010 - Rapport I Tillidsrepræsentanten og arbejdspladsen 2010, (Safety Rep Survey – Report Nr 1 – Safety Reps and Work place)). Available at: [2]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Danish Working Environment Authority (no date). The Working Environment Legislation. Retrieved 18 March 2013, from: [3]
  4. ILO – International Labour Organization, ILO Convention C155 from August 11, 1983 concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the working environment. Available at: [4]
  5. ILO – International Labour Organization, ILO Convention C155 from August 11, 1983 concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the working environment. Available at: [5]
  6. Ministry of Employment, Working Environment Act - Consolidated Act no. 1072 of 7 September 2010 with later amendments, 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from: [6]
  7. Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community - Joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on employee representation, OJ L 080 , 23.03.2002, p. 0029 – 0034. Available at: [7]
  8. Arbejdsmiljørådet (Working Environment Council) (2013). Homepage. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from: [8]
  9. Ankestyrelsen (The Working Environment Appeal Board) (2013). The Council of Appeal on Health and Safety at Work. Retrieved 27 May 2013, from: [9]
  10. Eironline – European Industrial Relations Observatory On-line (2009). The impact of the information and consultation directive on industrial relations — Denmark. Retrieved 23 March 2013, from: [10]
  11. 11.0 11.1 EU-OSHA – Euroepan Agency for Safety and Health at Work (no date). Arbetsmiljørodets service center/ Arbetsmiljøfondet (Danish Working Environment Information center). Retreived 18 March 2013, from: [11]
  12. 12.0 12.1 PEROSH – Partnership for European Research in Occupational Safety and Health (undated). Denmark: National Research Centre for the Working Environment (NRCWE). Retrieved 18 March 2013, from: [12]
  13. Ministeriet for Flygtninge, Indvandrere og Integration (no date). Occupational safety and health at the workplace. Available at: [13]


Links for further reading

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2012). Home page. Retrieved 7 December 2012, from:[14]</ref>

Council Directive 2001/86/EC of 8 October 2001 supplementing the Statute for a European company with regard to the involvement of employees. Available at: [15]</ref>

ILO – International Labour Organization, ILO Recommendation concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the Working Environment R 164, 1981. Available at: [16] </ref>

ILO – International Labour Organization, ILO Recommendation concerning communications between management and workers within the undertaking R 129, 1967. Available at: [17] </ref>

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), Managing safety and health at work, European Risk Observatory Report, 2010. Available at: [18]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker representation and consultation on health and safety: An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), 2012. Available at:[19]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Healthy Workplaces Campaign 2012-13 – Working together for risk prevention, 2012. Available at: [20]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and safety in SME’s: strategies for employee information and consultation. The case of Denmark, 2010. Available at: [21]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and safety at work in SMEs: Strategies for employee information and consultation, 2010. Available at: [22]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Social dialogue and working conditions, 2011. Available at: [23]

Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Workplace employee representation in Europe, 2012. Available at: [24]

ETUI - European Trade Union Institute, The impact of safety representatives on occupational health. A European perspective. Report 107, 2009. Available at: [25]

Contributors

Klaus Kuhl, Lothar Lissner