09 September 2003
Unions Help Denmark Prosper
“New Zealand should learn from the Denmark, a country that has built a strong economy by having a highly unionised workforce that works in partnership with employers and the government,” says CTU Secretary, Carol Beaumont.
There are strong similarities between the Danish and New Zealand economies as both are built on agriculture. Denmark has developed strong chemical, electronics and engineering industries but agricultural and fish products are still its largest export commodities. However Denmark has followed a different labour market policy than New Zealand and the Danes have reaped the benefit. Their GDP per capita last year was US$28,000 compared to US$19,500 for New Zealand.
The Danish labour market model involves most of its workers belonging to unions and being covered by collective agreements. There are more than 1,480,000 union members in Denmark from a population of 5.37 million. New Zealand has 329,000 members from a population of 4 million. Figures from the European Industrial Relations Observatory for 2000 show 87.5% of the Danish workforce belonged to a union. The Industrial Relations Centre at Victoria University puts union membership in New Zealand at 21.7% of the workforce.
In Denmark collective agreements constitute the most important source of law in labour matters. The pay and conditions in a collective agreement are accepted as the base pay and conditions for all workers in an industry whether they are covered by the collective or not.
A delegation from Denmark’s second largest union federation, The General Workers Union, which has more than 330,000 members is in New Zealand for a study tour.
“While New Zealand has much to learn from the success of the Danish labour market model, the delegation from Denmark is here to learn about the mistakes New Zealand made in 1980s and 1990s,” says CTU Secretary, Carol Beaumont.
“Denmark has elected a right wing government and the Danish unions fear that it will jeopardise Denmark’s economic success by following the same failed ideology pursued in the 1980s and 1990s.”
Carol Beaumont has spent this morning talking with the delegation from the General Workers Union in Denmark. This afternoon members of the delegation are involved in a seminar organised by ACC on how workplace safety is organised in Denmark. The delegation leaves New Zealand on Saturday.