Changes in the public sector before and after the financial crisis – University of Copenhagen

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16 October 2017

Changes in the public sector before and after the financial crisis

The present report includes the Danish findings from a comparative project, which analyses how social dialogue in the public sector has changed during the past 15 years, how the dialogue has impacted on reforms and how the reforms have impacted on the quantity and quality of jobs and on public services. To fulfil this very broad aim, the report addresses six more specific questions and focuses on three sub-sectors – hospitals, primary and lower secondary education (Folkeskolen) and eldercare.

With regard to the development of the social partner organizations and their relations, a great deal of stability is found with far less mergers than in the private sector and a continuous near 100 percent coverage of collective agreements (apart from in outsourced services). However, employers’ and the management’s prerogative have been strengthened across sectors and the 2013-conflict in the school sector has made relations more conflictual here and to reflections on how to strengthen trade unions position also beyond the sub-sector.

Multiple factors are needed to explain the changes described in the report. NPM-ideologies could be seen as a driver. Moreover, the economic crisis has made the public employers more powerful.  The crisis has also impacted through (comparatively mild) austerity policies and other reforms. However, the effects from the crisis mixes up with the impact of the Structural Reform, which was implemented in the same period. Also demographic and technological developments have been of importance.

 With regard to the shape public sector reforms have taken, New Public Management (NPM) has been on the agenda in the form of, e.g. contracting out, privatisations, free consumer choice, local wage determination, contract management and widespread use of targets and registration of activities. Recently, a countermovement to NPM has appeared, and some reforms have taken another path. Although not always succeeding, the social partners have been able to influence these reforms via the political arena and the collective bargaining arena – where the use of the latter seems to have been the most efficient.

Regarding the effect of the reform policies on the quality and quantity of jobs, the austerity policies and other reforms have contributed to the near 5-percentage decline seen in public sector employment 2010-17. However, the share of the public sector employment to all employment is still around 30 percent as it has been for the whole 15-year period. Non-standard employment have become more widespread in some sub-sectors, but not generally. Work intensification seems now to be an issue nearly everywhere, although the social partners rarely agree on the extent of the problem.

The last of the projects’ questions regards the impacts of the changes in quantity and quality of jobs on the availability and quality of public services. This question is discussed intensively in all three sub-sectors, but no consensus exists. Research projects and evaluations provide knowledge on the issue, but does not provide clear answers to this important question.

 The three sub-sectors analysed show similarities on several of the above-mentioned dimensions. However, differences are also found, for instance when it comes to the relations between the social partners, the scope and shape of NPM-reforms, changes in the number of jobs, and the use of nonstandard employment.

Read the publication 'Bargaining and Social Dialogue in the Public Sector (BARSOP)'. National report Denmark.