Why expats should join and become active members of Danish trade unions

Ever thought you recognised your Wolt rider? (photo: Laura Molloy)
December 13th, 2020 5:00 pm| by Jack Campbell

Denmark is famous for its strong trade unions. Around 70 percent of working age Danes are members of a trade union and roughly 80 percent  of workers in Denmark have a unionised contract. 

 This high level of trade union density is a key factor in why inequality is so low in Denmark and why Danish workers have the best work life balance in the world. 

I was aware of this before moving, so I expected better working conditions than I got back home in the UK. I was surprised to learn that, despite the hype, working here could be just as bad, if not worse, than jobs I’d previously had.

Exploitation at work
I, as well as many young people I have met here, have faced exploitation at work through harassment from bosses, unfair dismissals and low wages. 

Given that job opportunities are hard to come by when you’re not fluent in Danish, many of us feel unable to speak up about these problems as it can feel lucky to even have a job. Our workplace issues are individualised when, in reality, they are likely to also be felt by our co-workers.

Empowering experience
Like many other expats, I’ve never worked a job in Denmark covered by a unionised contract. I also didn’t join a trade union when I moved to Denmark or try to organise at my workplace – I had no idea how to even begin doing this. 

However, over the past year I have become involved in the trade union movement and have organised with other Wolt couriers for improved conditions with the help of the union 3F. 

This has been an empowering experience, and whilst we have not yet got the unionised contract we desire, we have seen some positive changes in our workplace that we believe are down to our collective resistance. 

Stronger together
All too often trade unions are viewed as a kind of insurance policy that can protect you if things turn sour in your workplace. 

I firmly believe that the strength of a trade union is measured by the strength of its members – a union may be able to help you with your individual case at work, but you and your co-workers will be in a far stronger position if you talk amongst yourselves and form collective bonds. 

It’s easy enough for bosses to pick off individuals who they perceive to be troublemakers, but it’s far more difficult for them to break a bond developed between a significant segment of the workforce. A trade union can give you the structure, resources and negotiating expertise in support of your collective resistance to the exploitative conditions you may face at work.

Pop by for free advice
If you have little or no previous experience in trade union organising and are interested in free advice, then drop by MigrantCenter Hovedstaden. 

We can offer you advice on how to approach these conversations with your colleagues and to begin to develop a strategy to win the changes which you and your coworkers need.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell is a union organiser with the Wolt Workers Group and a researcher on precarity in the Danish labour market. He also volunteers at MigrantCentre Hovedstaden, advising workers on how to organise in their workplace.