Ok, so we landed a collective agreement – but is it a good one?

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The strike and lockout have been called off. At least until further notice – because as you’ll have heard if you’ve been keeping up with the news, the negotiators for the state sector labour market just accepted a new collective agreement. We asked AU’s joint union representatives to share their assessment of the deal.

2018.05.03 | Marie Groth Andersen

Lotte Thue Pedersen (left) joint union representative for technical/administrative personnel (TAP’s) at AU. Olav W. Bertelsen, joint union representative for employees with university degrees at AU (both administrative, referred to as AC-TAP, and academic, or VIP). Photos: Ida Marie Jensen

On Saturday evening, the entire public sector in Denmark heaved a sigh of relief: the final collective agreements negotiated with the mediation of the conciliation board were signed – the agreements governing the working conditions of state sector employees.

Although AU’s two join union reps haven’t yet had a chance to read the fine print in the agreements and appendices, they agreed to share their assessments based on their first impressions of them. 

Better than feared

“It’s a better agreement than I’d feared,” says Olav W. Bertelsen, joint union representative for employees with university degrees at AU (both administrative, referred to as AC-TAP, and academic, or VIP).  

He lists a number of reasons for that conclusion. 

“We got a guarantee for the paid lunch break, and we got rid of the asymmetrical ‘private sector wage barrier’, which meant that we would always lag behind wage development in the private sector. We also got full pension coverage for PhD fellows, which I’d never have believed possible. And even though the government was trying to roll out some ideologically motivated projects involving more individualised salary negotiation, that’s been taken off the table, and that’s an important victory.”  

Better conditions for new graduates and young professionals

Another improvement Bertelsen singles out is better conditions for new graduates and young professionals, as well as an agreement to begin negotiations to extend the collective agreement to cover hourly-paid teaching staff.

“We will need to take a closer look at how this can be worked out in practice, but it’s a promising signal.”

Flaws in the agreement

But the new agreement also has flaws, according to Bertelsen.

“We didn’t manage to push through an increase in the associate professor supplement, and that’s a problem in terms of making sure that working at the university continues to be attractive. But the biggest flaw is that we didn’t succeed in repealing Act 409 on teachers’ working hours (applies to primary and lower secondary teachers in the Danish folkeskole, ed.). Employer and employee representatives should have shown a common will to solve this at the negotiating table. But that wasn’t the case.”

There’s also talk about the price the state sector employees had to pay for the guarantee on the paid lunch break, among other things. What did they have to give up?

“Minor things. Among other things,in case of employees who negotiate their own salaries, new positions and salaries no longer have to be approved by the unions. But here at the university, our practice is to approve both positions and salaries, so I don’t see this becoming a big problem. And then there’s ‘plus time’, which is when employers individually – and without the involvement of a union rep – can make agreements with employees to increase their weekly working hours to up to 42 hours in return for a pay raise. But this isn’t something we’ve practiced at AU.”

Will you advise your co-workers to vote for or against the agreement? 

“It’s too early to say. The devil’s in the details, and I need to make a proper close study of the details before I can recommend a yes or a no.” 

A new lease on life for the Danish model

Lotte Thue Pedersen, who is the joint union representative for technical/administrative personnel (TAP’s) at AU, is fundamentally positive about the fact that the negotiators succeeded in landing a settlement. 

“It’s a new lease on life for the Danish model. We weren’t afraid of the labour dispute, but we were afraid that the government would intervene to end it, and I’m incredibly relieved that this didn’t turn out to be the case. After all, it affects both working conditions and the work environment, as you can see among the teachers.” 

Like Bertelsen, Pedersen highlights the 8.1 per cent wage growth framework and the abolition of the private sector wage barrier. 

“It’s a really decent result, and the way the framework will be implemented will ensure increases in real wages.

Pay raises for trainees and apprentices

According to Pedersen, one important but overseen element of the agreement is significant pay raises of up to 20 per cent for trainees and apprentices in the state sector.

“This ensures that they’ll come up to the same level as trainees and apprentices in the private sector in terms of pay. The pay raises will mean a lot for the individual, but they’ll also make state sector workplaces more attractive.”

However, she also sees some flaws in the agreement:

“We didn’t succeed in introducing a free choice scheme, even though there was a lot of interest in making it possible for people to decide whether they want higher wages, higher pension contribution or more freedom and free time. That’s regrettable, but it won’t be forgotten, so we’ll take it up in the the next round of collective agreement negotiations.”

A good deal on the paid lunch breaks

There’s also talk about the price the state sector employees had to pay for the guarantee on the paid lunch break, among other things. What did they have to give up?

“It’s hard to tell at this point. A lot of the unions in the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions already had paid lunch breaks in their collective agreement, and the unions that are adding it now have gotten a pretty good deal. But I don’t want to speculate about precisely what they had to give up in exchange.” 

Will you advise your co-workers to vote for or against the agreement?

“On the face of it I’d recommend a yes. And no matter what, I hope there will be a high turnout, out of respect for the negotiators.” 

The labour dispute could still break out

The agreements will now be put to a vote among the members of the unions. By 6 June, the employers must be informed of how the members have voted on the text of the agreements. If a majority in an individual union votes in favour of the agreement, it will come into force for the members of that union. But if a union votes the agreement down, a labour dispute involving the unions’ members – both strike and lockout – will begin on 11 June 


The contents of the agreements:

Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (AC)

  • Guaranteed paid lunch breaks: Employees’ right to paid lunch breaks is guaranteed by the collective agreement. Paid lunch breaks can only be removed through negotiations between employer organisations and employee unions.
  • Pay raises: A wage growth framework of 8.1 per cent.
  • Abolition of the private sector wage barrier: Ensures that wages in the public sector will not lag behind private sector wages over time.
  • Plus time: Employers may make agreements on plus time with employees without the involvement of a union representative, and thereby without the involvement of a union. Plus time is an individual agreement whereby an employee accepts an increase in weekly working hours (a maximum of 42 hours) in exchange for higher pay. The increased weekly working hours are categorised as normal working hours, not as overtime.
  • Hourly-paid teaching staff must be covered by the collective agreement: This point is vaguely formulated as an intention to begin negotiations during the collective agreement period aimed at including hourly-paid teaching staff in the collective agreement, and that their inclusion must be cost-neutral.
  • New job category: A new job category has been introduced: senior consultants with direct reports, which applies to team leaders, for example. Senior consultants without direct reports will simply be termed senior consultants. Salary and supplements for this job category are agreed directly between the employee and their manager, without the involvement of a union.
  • Higher wages for employees with Bachelor’s degrees: The first two grades of the Bachelor’s pay scale will be increased.
  • Days off for recent graduates: Employees who are recent graduates will have the right to five days off with pay in the first year of employment if they do not receive holiday pay from prior full-time employment.
  • Better maternity/paternity leave for employees on temporary contracts at governmental research institutions: Postdocs and assistant professors will have the same employment terms and conditions as other university graduates in the state sector, and will have the right to an extension of their short-term contract equivalent to the duration of the period of maternity/paternity leave.
  • Full pension contribution for PhD students: Previously, PhD students only received pension contribution based on 85 per cent of the base salary. Now the pension contribution will be based on the full base salary.

The Danish Central Federation of State Employees’ Organisations

  • Employees’ right to paid lunch breaks is guaranteed by the collective agreement: Paid lunch breaks can only be removed through negotiations between employer organisations and employee unions.
  • Pay raises: A wage growth framework of 8.1 per cent.
  • Abolition of the private sector wage barrier, which ensures that public sector wages will not lag behind private sector wages over time.
  • Pay increases for trainees, apprentices and interns: Pay will be increased to a level equivalent to wages in the private sector.
  • Plus time: Employers may make agreements on plus time with employees without the involvement of a union representative, and thereby without the involvement of a union. Plus time is an individual agreement whereby an employee accepts an increase in weekly working hours (a maximum of 42 hours) in exchange for higher pay. The increased weekly working hours are categorised as normal working hours, not as overtime.
  • Hourly-paid teaching staff must be covered by the collective agreement: This point is vaguely formulated as an intention to begin negotiations during the collective agreement period aimed at including hourly-paid teaching staff in the collective agreement, and that their inclusion must be cost-neutral.

Translated by Lenore Messick

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Revised 19.10.2018