Workers ready to accept pay freeze

Majority acknowledge that pay raises are unrealistic in current economic climate

When top union negotiators went to the table on Wednesday with business leaders to begin banging out new collective agreements (overenskomster), there was little expectation of winning pay raises for their members. Instead, avoiding pay cuts was on their minds.

And based on recent opinion polls, workers expected no more.

In a new Gallup/Berlingske poll, 58 percent of workers admitted having no hopes that a pay raise would be part of their new labour agreement, despite the fact that real wages have fallen in comparison with living costs since the beginning of the financial crisis.

Some 12 percent of respondents even expected to see a pay cut.

Business leaders, for their part, indicated that they were ready for a fight if the unions thought they could extract pay raises in these lean times.

“It’s going to be an extremely tough negotiation. We don’t expect that we can negotiate salaries down, but even the slightest wage increase and all of the things that always come up that cost money – more maternity leave, for example – will be off the table,” one Zealand business leader, who asked not to be named, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Mogens Therkelsen, the CEO of transportation company H.P. Therkelsen, told Jyllands-Posten he was aiming for a three-year agreement with no pay raises and an extension of the work week by two to three hours – amounting, in essence, to a significant pay cut for his workers.

The chairman of LO, an association that represents 18 different labour unions and more than one million workers – more than a third of the Danish workforce – admitted that his organisation was going into the negotiations with modest expectations. But not so modest as to accept pay cuts.

“We’re going to be fighting to protect the current wage level, but I really can’t say when we’ll be able to recover the real-term wage losses we’ve experienced during the financial crisis,” LO’s chairman, Harald Børsting, told Urban newspaper.

Because LO will not press for higher wages this time around, securing other concessions for workers will take centre stage, Børsting added.

“Education and competencies are just as critical, and we will fight to get more of those.”

Union representatives from Dansk Metal, HK/Privat Nordjylland and 3F indicated to Jyllands-Posten that they would also be fighting for better job security and more flexibility for workers, in lieu of cold cash.