Teachers doomed before negotiations even started

Finance Ministry document from October shows that public employees’ salaries and working hours were clear targets for governmental reforms

A document unearthed at the Finance Ministry appears to show that the state government and Kommunernes Landsforening (KL), the local government association, stacked the deck against the nation’s teachers long before the current lockout even began.

A ‘performance contract’ from October 2012 between the ministry and its Moderniseringsstyrelsen section – the division tasked with modernising and streamlining the public sector – seems to show that decisions regarding teachers and other public sector employees had already been reached before any talks were held with the unions.

"[The agreement] is a lever to promote Moderniseringsstyrelsen’s agenda to align public pay and working hours as an essential and integral part of the expenditure policy,” reads the contract.

Labour experts say that the document is proof that the government has launched an offensive against public employees' salaries and working hours.

"The document shows that the government has set clear and transparent priorities to focus on economic efficiency through collective bargaining," Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen, a political science professor, told Politiken newspaper.

Labour researcher Flemming Ibsen agreed.

"Here you have it black and white that they will use collective bargaining as a lever to reduce costs. I have never seen something like this before,” Ibsen told Politiken.

The finance minister, Bjarne Corydon (Socialdemokraterne), has for weeks been the target of withering criticism and accusations of having co-ordinated an attack on teachers with the help of local councils and Moderniseringsstyrelsen.

"This confirms our concern that this has been a completely controlled process and teachers have not had many opportunities to negotiate in good faith," Bente Sorgenfrey, the president of FTF, a union representing 450,000 public and private employees that includes the teachers' union, told Politiken.

Another union leader, FOA head Dennis Kristensen, said that the entire process has been bogus from the start.

"I am furious that it's so targeted,” he said. “It is match fixing and completely disrespects the Danish model.”

Ibsen said that the document shows that teachers had lost their battle before a single negotiation was held.

"The document shows that KL and the Ministry of Finance had already reached a decision,” Ibsen told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “The teachers never really had a chance.”

Anders Bondo Christensen, the head of the teachers' union DLF, said that there has not been any honest debate on teachers' working hours and called on the government to intervene as soon as possible.

Corydon said that it is too early to talk about government intervention, telling Jyllands-Posten that the "Danish model should take its course.”

The unearthed ministry document also says that other areas open for potential “modernisation” will be identified in the second half of this year. Many interpret that as a clear sign that other professions will soon be under attack.

"Others must now be asking when it will be their turn,” said Ibsen. “Here is clear, written proof that they should be prepared.”

Three areas under the Finance Ministry’s public sector microscope are the elimination of paid lunch breaks, reductions in overtime and giving public sector bosses more leeway in insisting that staff come to work on short notice.

Corydon sees no problem with examining those areas.

"When you are a state employer paying out billions of kroner in wages, you must constantly analyse how to get the most out of the money," he told Jyllands Posten.