Education International
Education International

Denmark: Union dismay as Government intervention ends teachers' lock-out

published 30 April 2013 updated 15 May 2013

The lock-out of teachers in Denmark has ended after the Danish government intervened in the industrial action between the Danish Union of Teachers (DLF) and the municipalities’ association (Local Government Denmark – LGDK [KL]). The DLF is an affiliate of EI.

“The schools have ended up in a very difficult situation, where teachers have been run over by the partnership between the Government andLGDK,” said DLF President Anders Bondo Christensen on 25 April 2013. “The legislative intervention takes the LGDK demands into consideration to an outrageous degree. No real negotiations were held, because LGDK has always felt sure that it was backed up by the Government. Now we are facing a major school reform that got off to a bad start.”

DLF will continue doing everything in its power to ensure that its members can deliver high-quality teaching, he emphasised. The union will work for a reform of the “law on the public primary and lower secondary schools” that is based on research and knowledge, he explained.

“The great solidarity and commitment that we have seen among the teachers all over the country has strengthened the unity within DLF,” Bondo Christensen added. “The teachers have demonstrated their professional commitment and readiness to deliver good teaching.”

Background to lock-out

Since 2 April, 69,000 teachers have been locked out of the schools by the employers. The lock-out was announced on 28 February as a result of the employers’ unilateral declaration of a collapse in the negotiations for the new collective agreement. The teachers were not on strike; on the contrary, since the notice of the lock-out, they had declared that they wanted to go back to work and teach. The teachers’ organisations wanted to get back to the negotiation table and reach a compromise agreement, but KL did not compromise on their demand for a new working-time agreement with no limits to the teachers’ working hours.

ETUCE: Cooperation, not force, key to social dialogue

EI’s European Region, The European Trade Union Committee (ETUCE), has been following developments in the conflict between LGDK and DLF with increasing concern. On 23 April, ETUCE President Christine Blower and European Director Martin Rømer sent a protest letter to the KL Chief Negotiator, Michael Ziegler.

“Since 1 April, LGDK has introduced a massive lock-out of teachers with the purpose of pressurising the DLF to agree on terms and conditions for a new collective agreement without regulations on working time,” the letter reads.

ETUCE also reiterates that the expectations from students, parents and authorities for teachers to deliver high-quality teaching are very high and the respect for real negotiations on their working time should be just as high.

“Seen from a social dialogue perspective, the situation with the ultimate demand from LGDK looks extremely rigid and completely out of line with the nature of negotiations which should be a matter of give and take, not only take! Nevertheless, we urge you to quickly return to the negotiating table, establish a time-out and enter into real negotiations that can be concluded by both parties.”

To continue the lock-out instead of reinstating the dialogue has no purpose, the letter insists. According to the OECD, the most successful education systems exist where there are good relations between teachers’ trade unions and employers. The development of quality education systems has never been proved to work successfully in any country by force and a working-time agreement without regulations is purely a LGDK-invention that is intimidating teachers and their organisation. The code to modernising relations is not force but cooperation.

EI: Condemn’s government’s actions

EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, in a letter addressed to Denmark’s Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and dated 26 April, stated that EI condemns “the Danish Government’s decision to push an emergency act through Parliament which will unilaterally force through the employers’ demands. The breakdown of collective bargaining in a country well known for its well-established social-dialogue institutions is a tragedy.”

The Government is de facto radically changing the collective agreement for teachers by allowing school heads to impose individual work time and preparation time on teachers without negotiation and agreement, van Leeuwen underlined. This development is bypassing important opportunities for educational improvement and equity.

Van Leeuwen also stressed that “Danish teachers and their unions fought to maintain their rights in the workplace out of their primary concern for the quality of education. Danish teacher unions stand for what is best for their students.”

EI and the international education community have expressed their outrage at the Government’s ultimatum and failure to resort to good-faith negotiations to solve the issue between teacher unions and LGDK, he said. EI fully supports its Danish colleagues’ actions as they mobilise for quality public education.