27 February 2015

New challenges for public services social dialogue

Research paper by Nana Wesley Hansen and Mikkel Mailand

This report examines how service user involvement in schools and hospitals is being combined with social dialogue (collective bargaining and employee involvement) in Denmark and how employers and trade unions are responding to the emerging user involvement agenda.

The Danish case tells two quite different stories about the state and development of service user involvement in the two areas of the public sector, the Folkeskole (primary and lower secondary school) and the hospitals. There are, however, also some similarities between the areas: Firstly, some form of user involvement has existed for a very long time in both areas, and user organisations have existed in both sectors since the first half of the 20th century. Hence, service user involvement as such is not something new in Denmark, but it is increasing. Secondly, most forms of user involvement in the two areas are situated somewhere between consultation and partnership, possibly most often leaning towards the former. Thirdly, service user involvement does in general take place in different decision-making arenas than do the various forms of social dialogue. Also, the impact on user involvement on social dialogue and vice versa is so far very limited. Consequences for working conditions and workplace practices are also limited.

Apart from these general similarities, the study includes a number of differences: Although direct user involvement in some forms has a very long history, several forms of user involvement are only a few years old in the hospitals whereas most forms of user involvement in the Folkeskole have a long history. This difference is also reflected in the approach of the social partners. Whereas the employers’ organisations in the two sectors – Local Government DK and Danish Regions – have embraced user involvement more or less wholeheartedly, the trade union in the school sector – Danish Teachers Union – is so far clearly more engaged in user involvement issues than the trade unions in the hospital sector, although the Danish Teachers Union also has reservations regarding some forms of service user involvement.

That the trade unions in the hospital sector so far have not chosen to – or managed to – become a core actor in service user involvement in the hospital area does not necessarily mean that this will be so in the future. If user involvement continues to grow, trade unions might try to enter the scene much more forcefully than at present. They might do so either to exploit a new platform for influence, or because user involvement is moving closer to the trade unions’ traditional core business.

This national report is part of a country comparative EU-funded project.

Read research paper (pdf)