Lockout likely as Easter approaches

A worse-case scenario could see students miss graduation exams and be out of school for months

Half a million students will head into their Easter breaks today with their families not knowing when they will be able to return to their schools.

The teachers' union Danmarks Lærerforening (DLF) and local government association KL are still not close to coming to a compromise in the negotiations that have been dragging on for the past weeks.

“All the politicians that I’ve spoken with yesterday said that the lockout will become a reality after Easter,” Mette With Hagensen, the head of school and parent union Landsforeningen Skole og Forældre, told Ekstra Bladet tabloid. 

Schools around the country are preparing for an impending lockout and at a number of schools, the number of teachers that would be available if the lockout takes effect is expected to be despairingly low.

Some teachers have been asked to hand in school keys and won’t receive pay, while other schools have drawn up emergency plans and only 10,350 teachers will be available to cater to 500,000 students, or about one teacher for every 55 students.

“By far, most of the children won’t be able to go to school and at many of the schools, there won’t be more than three or four adults. They can’t watch over all the children,” the leader of head-teachers’ union, Skolelederne, Anders Balle, told Politiken newspaper. “The only [teachers] I can use are the ones outside the unions.”

Today is the last chance for the parties to reach an agreement before the Easter break. Negotiations yesterday collapsed and there is widespread doubt from all sides that any sort of arrangement can be agreed upon during today’s negotiations.

“I will once again meet up believing and hoping that an agreement can be reached, but time is running out,” Anders Bondo Christensen, the head of DLF, told Politiken newspaper. “I’m sitting in Aalborg Airport heading home from KL’s meeting where I’ve heard their leader speak yesterday. It didn’t generate the greatest optimism in regards to an agreement.”

At yesterday's meeting, KL head Erik Nielsen (Socialdemokraterne) said that DLF are “trapped in a time capsule from the previous century”, that they are “nay-sayers” and that the current teacher agreement is an “anachronism”.

If an agreement is not reached by April 1, then the teachers will be prohibited from returning to work after the Easter break, something that KL sees as a distinct possibility.

“We are in a situation where there is no golden middle ground. Either there are work-hour rules or there aren’t, and that’s what makes the negotiations difficult,” Michael Ziegler (Konservative), the chief negotiator for KL, told Politiken. “We are in a gridlocked situation. Everything depends on what happens today, but there is a serious risk that a lockout becomes a reality.”

The teachers' chances of getting their way in the negotiations took a turn for the worse on Wednesday when the headteachers’ union, Skolelederne, decided to back KL and urge the teachers to agree to terms.

“Future schools require a new work-hour agreement and teachers must be in schools for longer periods of time,” Balle told DR News. “We need an agreement that fits the government’s forthcoming reform of the education system. That reform demands greater flexibility and more co-operation in the schools.”

Balle went on to argue that the teachers should remain at the school during their work hours, between 7am and 3pm, and lamented the prevalent culture during which teachers go home when the school day ends.

Factfile | What could happen if an agreement is not reached before summer:

April 1 – A potential conflict can begin on April 1 at the earliest and it can be postponed for two weeks by the mediators while they try and come to an agreement.

April 15 – A conflict can be postponed a further two weeks and five days by mediators if they evaluate that an agreement can be reached.

May 2 – Upper-secondary school written graduation exams are postponed if the conflict is still on.

May 4 – A postponement of the conflict is no longer possible. Schools close and students are sent home.

June 3 – Oral graduation exams are postponed if the conflict persists.

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