Industrial Relations Practices Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon companies – The Perspective of Danish Shop Stewards

Trine P. Larsen* & Steen E. Navrbjerg*
*Associate Professor, FAOS, University of Copenhagen

Paper presented at SASE conference July 2015. 

Key words: multi-national companies, Danish industrial relations and unions

Numerous studies have explored and documented industrial relations practices of companies operating across borders. These studies tend to concentrate on the activities of foreign companies – typically British, American and German - in countries with more permissive labour market regulation. The industrial relations practices of foreign operations of different origin, along with Anglo-Saxon companies operating in more regulated labour market with strong traditions of collective bargaining like the Scandinavian countries, is less researched. The various studies also tend to rarely move beyond union recognition and union representation at the workplace and they seldom explore the day-to-day management-employee relations, wages and working conditions from the perspectives of employees (Collings 2008;  Gunnigle et al, forthcoming). Indeed, much research on foreign companies typically involves the perspective of employers only and tends to treat the Scandinavian countries en bloc without differentiating between their distinct characteristics (Gooderham et al, 2014).  

This paper offers new insights into the management-employee relations in Nordic and Anglo-Saxon companies operating in Denmark. From the perspective of Danish shop stewards, we will explore management’s attitudes towards unions and their representatives and the traditions of employee involvement at company level in enterprises emanating from Norway, Sweden, the UK, the USA and Denmark. The analysis will shed light on the day-to day industrial relations practices in companies of different origin operating in Denmark, revealing to what degree such companies conform to Danish industrial relations traditions characterised by a comparatively high union density, extensive collective agreement coverage, strong union representation at the workplace and long traditions for collective bargaining at local and sectoral level. Thereby, we will also implicitly be able to give an indication of the challenges the Danish industrial relation system faces when an increasing number of foreign investors and companies enter the Danish labour market.

Foreign companies employ approximately 20 per cent of the Danish workforce in the private sector – this share is considerably higher than a decade ago (Statistics Denmark, 2014a;2014b). The foreign entities come predominantly from other Nordic countries, although American and British companies also are relatively common on the Danish labour market. Companies from the UK and the USA are less accustomed to the Danish bargaining traditions as they emanate from countries with limited traditions of collective bargaining and rather ambivalent relations with unions (Gregory, 2004; Marginson et al, 2010). Others such as Swedish and Norwegian companies originate from countries with relatively similar industrial relations systems like the Danish (Andersen et al., 2014). It can therefore be expected that companies from the other Scandinavian countries to a higher degree conform with the Danish industrial relations traditions than their British and American peers in terms of a higher union density at the workplace and a more inclusive management in terms of union/employee involvement in company based decisions.