The contribution of tripartite social dialogue to prevent sexual harassment and promote gender equality in Denmark
The Danish Trade Union Confederation (FH), a partner to the Global Deal, plays a vital role in influencing legal and political decisions impacting workers and society, including gender equality, parental leave and ending sexual harassment at work.
In recent years, FH, with 64 affiliates and 1.6 million members, has called for stronger regulations on sexual harassment and greater social dialogue with employees, as existing measures were deemed inadequate. Unions have also called for improved compensation for victims of sexual harassment, along with clear duties on employers to take steps to prevent harassment.
Furthermore, the problem itself has grown more visible. Research carried out by FH in 2021 found that the number of workers experiencing sexual harassment in Denmark is more than double the official figures. This research, coupled with the #MeToo movement and the global union campaign for the adoption of the ILO’s Violence and Harassment Convention No. 190, reinforced the momentum for change. As a result, unions and employers in many sectors have made greater efforts to secure safe working environments.
Social dialogue between the government and social partners on preventing and managing sexual harassment, the level of compensation in cases of sexual harassment, and the use of confidentiality clauses and other legislative measures, culminated in the ground-breaking Agreement on Initiatives to Counter Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in 2022.
Concluded on 4 March 2022 by FH, the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA) and the Minister for Gender Equality, the tripartite agreement is a significant step forward in embedding better protection, prevention, and a culture change in the workplace, with the involvement of social partners.
Earlier requirements on employers to provide a harassment-free working environment were not set out in the law. This changed with the new tripartite agreement, which sets out employers’ responsibilities that will be included as amendments in the Equal Treatment Act. All companies, regardless of whether they have rules in place, are now mandated to take measures to prevent sexual harassment and make plans for dealing with cases.
Overall, the agreement aims to ensure a significant cultural change in the workplace through the introduction of 17 initiatives that set out effective tools to prevent and address sexual harassment:
- Five initiatives state the responsibilities of employers and employees and suggest an increase in the compensation paid for sexual harassment.
- Three additional initiatives address how organisations should implement policies for dealing with and preventing sexual harassment, along with a focus on health and safety risk assessments (called APVs).
- Three initiatives deal with the collection of information by the Danish Working Environment Authority, including a requirement that the Authority carries out an annual statement on the number of sexual harassment cases.
- Five initiatives strengthen the legal recognition of trainees and apprentices in sexual harassment claims.
- Finally, the tripartite agreement contains a proposal to establish an alliance with relevant organisations in the labour market, the education sector and civil society with a view to preventing sexual harassment.
Although it is too early to assess the impact, these measures are expected to change attitudes, leading to a significant reduction in episodes of sexual harassment at work.
A further example of social dialogue contributing to gender equality is a landmark tripartite agreement dating back to 13 September 2021, where FH and the DA recommended the introduction of 11 weeks’ maternity and parental leave earmarked for both parents to replace previous entitlements where fathers were only entitled to two weeks of paid leave. Following this agreement, the Danish government implemented these changes in the law.
The agreement addresses the concerns of the government and social partners that the higher number of days spent by women on maternity and parental leave in Denmark represents a major barrier to gender equality.
Furthermore, on 3 March 2022, the Danish Parliament amended the Act on Parental Leave, implementing the tripartite agreement from 1 July 2022, with new rules for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBT+) families and single parents applicable from 1 January 2024. This provides a concrete example of how social dialogue can lead to more ambitious outcomes than the minimum standards set out in the European Union’s Leave Directive of 2019.
Denmark’s social partners believe that the two agreements will significantly contribute to the shared goal of gender equality and show that there is significant strength in the Danish model, which enables the tripartite partners to find solutions to common problems together.
We are very pleased that the parties behind the agreement have listened to our wishes. It is powerful when both parliament and the social partners work together to change structures in society that actually promote equality in our society […] The work of creating a workplace culture in which it is natural for fathers to take much more leave than they do today is now starting. I look forward to when it’s normal for dad to wheel the pram onto the site when he visits colleagues on maternity leave.
Social dialogue has made an important contribution to policy-making on gender equality, designing a collective response.
In the case of the tripartite agreement on sexual harassment, reaching a consensus on the respective responsibilities of employers and employees has helped all parties play a more proactive role in ending sexual harassment.
The Tripartite Agreement on Parental Leave is an excellent example of how social partners have played a role in implementing the EU Parental Leave Directive in a progressive way and provided the framework for government to implement the agreement in law.
Both examples show the importance of regular discussion, building trust and creating an environment conducive to finding joint solutions to problems that both employers and unions consider important.
Government support is important in ensuring an effective social dialogue process along with its commitment to bringing parties together to find joint solutions.
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