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Trade Unions

Union density is high in Denmark, at around two-thirds of the workforce, although it has fallen in recent years. Most union members are in unions associated with the three main confederations – LO, FTF and Akademikerne (previously known as AC). These are organised on occupational and educational lines, although the boundaries between the three are not precise.

There are about 2.05 million trade union members in Denmark.1 With a labour force of 2.6 million, excluding the self-employed, this produces a union density of almost 80%, although the figure is somewhat lower if retired union members are taken into account. A recent study for the largest union confederation estimated union density at 67% in 2010,2 and the ICTWSS database of union membership put union density in Denmark at 68.5% in the same year.3 One reason for this high level of membership may be trade union involvement in the administration of unemployment funds. But this is certainly not the only one.

By far the largest trade union confederation in Denmark is the LO. The unions belonging to LO have 1,074,741 members (as at end 2013), although, if only those active in the labour market are included, the total falls to 866,9504 . LO unions organise both manual and non-manual workers. The next biggest confederation is the FTF, with some 346,340 members. It is largely made up of unions which organise public sector employees like civil servants, teachers and nurses, but it also includes some private sector non-manual workers, particularly in banking and finance. The third largest grouping is the Akademikerne, with 203,449 members (324,940 if students and other non-employed members are included).5 Akademikerne organises graduate level employees in the public and private sectors and it saw a sharp rise in its membership when the Danish society of engineers (IDA) with 54,461 members (88,747 if students and others are included) returned to the confederation after five years outside it.


Although there is some competition for members between these three confederations, relations between them are generally good and there are prospects of much closer ties, possibly including a full merger between LO and FTF (see below).

There are also 386,357 members organised in union bodies outside these three main confederations. The largest is the Christian union KF, with 112,721 members, followed by LH (Lederne), which organises managers and executives and has 96,503 members.

The LO, FTF and Akademikerne are made up of a large number of separate unions.

Many of the 17 LO unions are relatively small craft unions but the largest have a wider membership including: HK (shop and clerical workers' union) with 199,726 members; FOA (public employees) with 166,204 members; and Dansk Metal (metalworkers) with 83,454 members. (All figures are for those active in the labour market.) The largest union in LO is 3F, which is a general workers union and has 264,571 members. Overall the union structure is complex, with a combination of craft, industry and general unions. There are attempts to limit competition for membership through demarcation agreements, but it still exists in some areas.

The FTF and Akademikerne are organised on a combination of an occupational and industry basis. The FTF’s largest affiliates are the teachers’ union with 60,845 members, the nursing union with 53,899, BUPL for staff in childcare institutions with 51,927 and the finance union with 42,173. The largest Akademikerne affiliates are the newly returned society of engineers, with 54,461 members, the association of lawyers and economists with 50,004 and the Dansk Magisterforening (DM), with 28,031 members, which organises employees with a higher degree.

The individual unions are independent but the central organisations, particularly LO, play a critical role in negotiating the framework agreements which have shaped the Danish system.

The LO has historically been close to the Danish social democratic party and until 1995 the two bodies were represented on one another’s executive committee. However, it broke its final links with the social democrats at a special congress in February 2003 when it ended the practice of giving the party financial support. The FTF and the Akademikerne insist on their complete independence from political parties.

Although remaining high relative to other countries, the proportion of employees organised in unions has fallen in recent years. The recent LO study estimates that, since 2000, union density has fallen from 72% to 67%.6 The picture in terms of the overall number of union members is slightly less clear, as Statistics Denmark, which publishes the figures, has changed the way they are presented. From 2013 onwards its figures only include those active in the labour market; before that date the LO figures also included pensioners, students and the self-employed. However, there appears to be a downward trend. On the old basis, membership fell from 2.16 million in 2000 to 2.05 million in 2012, while on the new basis it fell from 1,819,000 at the start of 2013 to 1,803,000 at the start of 2014.

At the same time there has been a shift in membership between the main union confederations, in part reflecting the changes in the labour market, with the FTF and Akademikerne, who organise more highly skilled employees, benefiting at the cost of the LO. There has also been a growth in the number of union members outside the three main union confederations, which generally have lower subscription rates than the unions in the confederations. Excluding the managers’ union LH (Lederne), the membership of unions outside LO, FTF and Akademikerne has grown by 43% between 2008 and 2014, from 202,100 to 289,854.

The LO has for some time argued for a merger of all three confederations, and it seems likely that, at the very least, there will be closer cooperation between LO and FTF. In September 2014, the two confederations produced a joint document "The opportunities for the trade union movement towards 2020", which specifically raised the prospect of setting up a new single union organisation.7 However, although closer cooperation seems likely, a full merger may take time to emerge, assuming it ever does. The two confederations’ congresses in October and November 2015 will indicate whether a full merger has sufficient support.

Unions, particularly those in LO, are concerned about the loss of members and have organised campaigns to recruit new members, particularly among young people and migrant workers. Overall there are slightly more women in Danish unions than men. Overall women make up 51.4% of trade unionists active in the labour market. In the LO women account for 49.5% of members, in FTF 69.2% and in Akademikerne 49.0%. The percentage of women is lower in the managers union LH (Lederne), at 28.7%, and in the other unions outside the three confederations, at 44.7%.

L. Fulton (2015) Worker representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI. Produced with the assistance of the SEEurope Network, online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.