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Denmark: Flexible working arrangements and sheltered employment

| Text: Berit Kvam

It is better to change the workplace than to force people into early retirement. This is the catch phrase of a reform currently taking place in Denmark. New ways of working have been introduced: flexible working arrangements and sheltered employment.

Unemployment is now so low that it’s more than just a matter of the Danish good nature. Everyone is needed in the labour market. Instead of just looking at what those on the outside need to do to fit in, the actual way of fitting in could also be looked at.

Flexible working arrangements are forms of employment where a person who can no longer work full time, either because of illness or for some other reason, can reduce their working hours but still receive the same pay or get a new job with shorter working hours. Flexible working arrangements were introduced in 1998.

"There was initially much debate over whether this was a fair system or not. That's why a campaign was run to change people's attitudes and to show that the system's necessary. Today, people's attitudes are more positive. But it’s easier when it's a colleague who's involved rather than someone from outside," says Managing Director Henrik Brandt, Centre for the Inclusive Labour Market, an independent centre set up to monitor the reform.

Over 13,000 flexible working arrangements have been created and both municipalities and companies say that they could set up even more. The flexible working arrangements are subsidised by the state and are intended for people not receiving state benefits.

Sheltered jobs are for people in receipt of benefits. To date, almost 6,000 jobs of this kind have been set up. Where these jobs are concerned, it's a matter more of arranging workplaces to suit people with different disabilities. The Danish reform has been formalised in agreements between the social partners and will play an important role when Denmark takes over the EU presidency in the second half of 2002. One of the aims is to get the subject of inclusive workplaces onto the EU agenda as a main issue.


  • The Nordic model represents a partnership between employers, trade unions and the government, whereby these social partners negotiate the terms to regulating the workplace among themselves, rather than the terms being imposed by law.


  • Through collective bargaining, agreements are reached which apply industry-wide. Employers accept the trade unions' right to organise workers, while the trade unions accept that the employers have the right to manage and allocate the work.


  • The model assumes that both the trade unions and the employer organisations are representative. From an international perspective, the level of organisation among employees is extremely high in the Nordic countries, between 50 and 80 %.This is also the case among employers.


  • The Nordic model is supported by the state pursuing an active employment policy. It is based partly on keeping unemployment low and partly on improving the chances of the unemployed of finding a job through the provision of training.

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