Unions are central to workplace representation in Denmark. Local union representatives take up employees’ concerns with management and are often also members of the main information and consultation body – the cooperation committee.
The trade unions, with their high membership levels, provide the main basis of workplace representation in Denmark. The trade union representative (tillidsrepræsentant) takes up workers' day-to-day concerns with the employer and usually has a mandate to bargain locally on pay, working time arrangements and other issues. Trade union representatives also have priority with regard to the representation of employees on the Danish equivalent of the works council, the cooperation committee. (They are also sometimes elected as safety representatives and as members of the separate health and safety committees, although this is not the normal situation.)
This representation has a legal basis in the binding collective agreements reached between the employers' federation and the unions. Trade union representatives' rights are set out in broad terms in a national agreement, with the detailed position for each industry set out in the industry agreements.
There are also cooperation committees, the equivalent of works councils, in Danish workplaces. Their rights and duties are set out in a national agreement covering most of the private sector, between the LO and DA (the main union and employer bodies, although LO is now part of the FH union confederation). This agreement was initially signed in 1986 and most recently revised in 2006. There are separate agreements for agriculture and finance, and in the public sector there are separate agreements for central government, and for local government and regional government.
Figures from Eurofound’s 2013 European Company Survey show that 79% of establishments with at least 10 employees have some form of official employee representation, which may be either a union or a cooperation committee. This is the highest proportion in the EU28, and well above the average of 32%. As elsewhere in Europe, larger organisations are more likely to have such a structure than smaller ones. Among establishments with more than 250 employees, 99% have some form of employee representation.
These are broadly in line with the results of an earlier study by the employment relations research centre at the University of Copenhagen FAOS. It found that 52% of all workplaces with five or more employees (a lower threshold than the Eurofound survey) had a union representative, and in those with 50 or more employees, the figure was at least 83%. However, there was a sharp divide between the public sector, where 91% of workplaces with five or more employees had a union representative, and the private sector, where only 33% had a union representative. In larger workplaces, those with 50 or more employees, all of the public sector workplaces had a union representative, but in the private sector the figures were 65% for those with between 50 and 99 employees, 81% for those with between 100 and 249 employees, and 91% for those with 250 employees or more.
Numbers and structure
The number of trade union representatives elected at each workplace will depend on the number of employees, as well as the precise details of the collective agreement covering the industry. Typically there will be one trade union representative for every 50 or so employees, and in most agreements the right to elect a trade union representative starts once there are more than five employees in the workplace. Because of the structure of Danish unions there will often be several unions in a single workplace, and accordingly there will also be several representatives. In larger workplaces, the representatives will often elect a joint trade union representative.
Cooperation committees, to which trade union representatives belong, are joint bodies consisting of equal numbers of employee and management representatives. They should be set up in all companies with 35 or more employees where this is requested by the employer or a majority of employees. The basis on which this number is calculated is not set out in the LO-DA cooperation agreement. It states only that cooperation committees should be set up “in enterprises employing 35 persons or more within the same geographical area”.
In practice, the main employers’ association DA estimates that 70% of companies which could potentially have a cooperation committee in fact have one.
The membership of the cooperation committee, as set out in the LO-DA agreement, is as follows:
Number of employee representatives
Above 1,000 the numbers may be increased by agreement.
The employee representatives consist of trade union representatives from the workplace, combined in some cases with other elected employees. In February 2004, the LO and the main employers’ association DA agreed to revise the agreement on cooperation committees to take account of the EU directive on information and consultation (2002/14/EC). The change allows employee groups outside the LO to be represented in the cooperation committee.
The management representatives, who also include supervisory staff, are partly appointed by management and partly selected by the supervisory staff (where one of the supervisory unions have members in a workplace, at least one is included among the management representatives – see section on election).
The cooperation committee is chaired by the senior representative of management with the deputy chair coming from the employee representatives. (Where the unions have elected a joint representative, he or she is automatically the deputy chair.) The secretary is jointly elected by the two groups.
The cooperation committee should meet at least six times a year, and extraordinary meetings can be held whenever either side has a specific issue which it wants to be dealt with before the next regular meeting. The cooperation committee can also set up subcommittees, which may be either temporary or permanent.
Tasks and rights
The role of trade union representatives includes: ensuring that the existing collective agreements are properly applied; taking up individual issues with the employer; acting as a focal point for union activity, such as campaigns and recruitment; and, increasingly, being involved in workplace level negotiations.
In larger workplaces the union members may come together as a workplace grouping, a "club", with a joint club if there is more than one union. Part of the work of the trade union representatives will be to play a leading role in these groupings.
In addition to these tasks, trade union representatives are under an obligation to try to "maintain and promote cooperation between the employer and the employees at the workplace".
The main task of the cooperation committee, as defined in the agreement under which they are set up, is "to promote cooperation throughout the enterprise, for the benefit of the enterprise as such and the individual employee".
In practice the cooperation committee has information and consultation rights. It is also the forum through which the two sides attempt to reach agreement on a range of issues. But it does not have the effective veto powers which works councils in some other countries possess.
The cooperation committee should be informed by management on the financial position of the business and its future prospects, including likely future sales and production issues. It should get information on the employment outlook and any major changes or reorganisation planned, such as the introduction of new technology. The cooperation committee is also required to assess the impact of new technology when its introduction is planned on a large scale. It should also, as a result of a 1991 supplement to the LO-DA agreement, be informed about developments in the area of equal treatment between men and women.
In order to ensure that employee views can be taken into consideration by management, information should be provided "sufficiently early to allow employees to put forward viewpoints, ideas and proposals ... before any decision is made".
Unusually, the employee representatives are also expected to provide information: they should keep the cooperation committee informed about working conditions.
The cooperation committee is also the body through which employer and employee representatives attempt to reach agreement on a series of policy principles. These include: the human relations and personnel policy of the company, including its policy on equal treatment between men and women; training and retraining linked to new technology; the use of personal data; and production methods and major changes to the business. However, the cooperation committee is deliberately excluded from any role in negotiating collective agreements on pay or other issues dealt with between the employers and union representatives.
Where agreement is not possible either side can consult the Cooperation Board - a national joint union/employer body charged with promoting cooperation - in an attempt to reach a settlement. However, the final decision rests with management.
The cooperation committee should not operate in isolation from the rest of the workforce. One of its key roles is to pass information on to employees.
Election and term of office
Trade union delegates are elected by the trade unionists in the workplace, although in manufacturing industry, under the terms of the collective agreement, they are elected by both union and non-union members in the area of the workplace they represent. The precise details of the election procedures and the length of time that delegates serve are fixed by the rules of the union and the collective agreement in the industry.
Trade union representatives have priority membership of the cooperation committee. If there are more trade union representatives than seats on the committee, the union representatives choose from among themselves who should take the seats.
If there are some groups of employees who are not represented by the unions, or, in the case of the LO-DA agreement, they are represented by unions that do not belong to LO, the existing union representatives can be supplemented by representatives of these groups. In choosing members, the agreement states that an attempt should be made to ensure that all employees are represented in terms of “staff groups, sections and professional qualifications”.
The term of office is two years.
As well as union members on the employees’ side there must also be at least one member of the managers’ union LH on the management side, if LH has members in the company. This is set out in a separate agreement between DA and LH, signed in 1998. The choice of individual is agreed with the LH members in the company or with their representative, if there is one.
Protection against dismissal
Trade union representatives can only be dismissed after the union has been informed and after any arbitration proceedings over the dismissal have ended. This automatically covers most members of the cooperation committee. Those who are not trade union representatives are entitled to an additional six weeks’ notice beyond that generally provided.
Time off and other resources
Trade union representatives typically will have paid time off for their duties.
Employee members of the cooperation committee are entitled to paid time off to attend cooperation committee meetings. In addition the deputy chair, the senior employee representative, is entitled to time off to carry out the tasks linked with the cooperation committee. Office facilities may also be provided to the deputy chair, where these are necessary.
The cooperation committee can call in outside experts, although these will normally be agreed by both sides. Where two sides cannot agree on the involvement of external experts, they can ask for the intervention of the national joint union/employer body, the Cooperation Board, to help them reach agreement.
Trade union representatives will normally be entitled to paid leave to take part in union-organised courses. The details depend on the specific collective agreement for the industry. Since 2007 several collective agreements, including the agreement for manufacturing industry, which covers a large number of employees, have provided for newly elected trade union representatives to be entitled to four days’ paid time off for training. The training itself is normally financed by a fund set up by both sides.
There are no specific training rights for members of cooperation committees.
Representation at group level
In larger groups the trade union representatives from different workplaces will frequently come together in a joint committee, or meet more informally.
For cooperation committees the structure recommended in the LO-DA agreement, is that a group committee should be set up, composed of representatives from the subsidiaries' cooperation committees.
 Eurofound (2015), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being, Figures for Table 44
 Tillidsrepræsentantundersøgelsen 2010 Rapport I Tillidsrepræsentanten og arbejdspladsen by Trine P. Larsen, Steen E. Navrbjerg and Mikkel Møller Johansen, 2010