Decentralizing the Danish bargaining model –  exploiting the new opportunities for local bargaining 

Trine P. Larsen* and Steen E. Navrbjerg*
*Associate Professors, FAOS, University of Copenhagen
Paper presented at IREC Conference, Gothenburg, September 2015


Ample research has analysed the recent decentralisation of European collective bargaining systems along with the activities and outcomes of company based bargaining (Traxler 1995; Ilsøe et al 2007). However, such studies often offer a snap shot of the present situation at company level and tend to focus on the manufacturing sector – a sector dominated by relatively strong traditions of collective bargaining, high union densities and collective agreement coverage and dense networks of union representation at the workplace level across Europe. Research that provides a longitudinal perspective regarding company based bargaining and includes sectors other than the manufacturing sector are scarce (Bechter et al, 2012; Artus, 2013). Thus, recent studies have increasingly explored the situation in for example retail and private services – sectors with very different characteristics regarding collective bargaining traditions, union densities, collective agreement coverage, union representation at company level (Geppert et al, 2014).

This paper examines the recent decentralisation process of the Danish bargaining model from the perspective of shop stewards. The main focus is the depth (how widespread company based bargaining is in distinct sectors) and the scope (types of topics discussed and local agreements signed) of company based bargaining during distinct stages in the decentralisation process. We draw on longitudinal data with Danish shop stewards from 1998 and 2010, respectively. In 1998, although company based bargaining was already widespread, the sectoral agreements restricted its scope and local agreements had be approved by local unions. In 2010, social partners no longer need the approval of local unions when they sign local agreements, and most sectoral agreements give considerable latitude for local bargaining on different issues.

The analysis reveals how shop stewards have handled the recent decentralisation process in terms of exploiting the new opportunities for company based bargaining. A focal point is whether the decentralisation process of the Danish bargaining system can be considered as organised decentralisation, if the bargaining structures and the negotiation culture at sectoral level only to some degree have been replicated at company level in distinct sectors. Indeed, these elements are typically along with the extensive collective agreement coverage, a high union density and dense network of shop stewards at workplace level considered preconditions when classifying Denmark as the prototype of organised decentralisation (Due and Madsen, 2008).