European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Strikes in Denmark: background summary

The right to strike stems from practice. It is defined by collective agreements and case-law. In case of disputes, the labour court decides on the legality of strike actions.

  • The ‘September compromise’ – the landmark agreement concluded in 1899 between the social partners – laid down rules on dispute resolution by conciliation or arbitration, and particularly the fundamental mutual rights and obligations on which the Danish system is based, such as: 1/ The right to organise. 2/ The right of employers to freely organise work and use the labour that they consider necessary. 3/ The right to collective struggle (strike, lockout, and other forms of action). 4/ The social peace clause: where a collective agreement has been negotiated and concluded, work stoppages are not lawful if they concern matters regulated by the collective agreement and are conducted during the term of the agreement.
  • In 1908, LO and DA also concluded an agreement on the resolution of labour disputes. This was entitled ‘Standard for the resolution of labour disputes’ (Regler for behandling af faglig strid) and laid down rules on managing disagreements about the interpretation of collective agreements. This marked the starting point of the Danish practice of leaving the social partners to regulate labour rights through collective agreements.
  • In 2006, LO and DA agreed on a new document, also entitled ‘Regler for behandling af faglig strid ’ because it corresponds to the previous standard, albeit with some linguistic modernisation. This new standard lays down the principle that disputes must be resolved primarily by negotiation and mediation, and applies except where certain different practices are laid down in agreements.
  • These standards have been reinforced by a law that came into force in 2008, known as ‘arbejdsretslov’, which aims to modernise the existing regulatory framework for the resolution of labour disputes and arbitration rules, and clarify the responsibilities of the courts and the rules for the appointment of judges.
  • Strikes can be local in individual companies, or national in the context of collective bargaining. The reason for them can be connected with a collective agreement (except where the matter in question has been regulated for the term of the agreement) or political in relation to a government or parliamentary decision.
  • The year in which the number of strike days was the lowest was 2015, with 158 strikes, including 138 wildcat strikes (overenskomststridige arbejdsnedlæggelser, literally strikes infringing the collective agreement), resulting in 9 400 days not worked (of which 7 979 due to wildcat strikes) in companies in the private sector covered by the employers’ confederation DA. In total 6 054 workers went on strike at least once in 2015. The strikes particularly occurred in transport and telecommunications (38%), industry (30%) and construction (16%).
  • According to ETUI figures, for the 2000-2009 period, Denmark was in the third tier of Member States with regard to the highest number of days not worked due to industrial action (just over 100 days not worked per 1 000 workers), behind Spain and France.
  • Researchers explain that this result is due to an underlying trend that has existed since 2000: workers’ demands relate more to working conditions than wages, resulting in negotiations occurring at company level, rather than at branch level. However, local negotiations function well because preventive dialogue prevails: the two sides are aware that they have an equal interest in keeping the company sustainable and they perceive each other as partners and not as adversaries.
  • This trend can also be explained by the development of the ‘yellow’ unions, some of which reject the use of strikes as a means of pressure.
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