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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 main confederations, the new FH (the result of a merger at the start of 2019) and Akademikerne, which are organised on occupational and educational lines. However, there are also trade unionists outside the two main confederations.

There are just over two million trade union members in Denmark and 1.86 million trade unionists who are employees.[1] With 2.77 million employees this produces a union density of 67.3% in 2018.[2] This compares with a study for the largest union confederation which estimated union density at 67% in 2010,[3] and the ICTWSS database of union membership which put union density in Denmark at 67.1% in 2016.[4]  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 FH Formed from a merger of what were previously Denmark’s two largest union confederations, LO and FTF, FH has 1.4 million members of whom 1.15 million are employees.


The creation of FH was agreed at conferences of the two merging organisations, LO and FTF, in April 2018 and was implemented on 1 January 2019. It is the culmination of  a process which goes back at least to September 2014,  when 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.[5] The merger brings together one million members organised in 18 LO unions and 450,000 members in 70 FTF unions into a single body. (These membership figures are for total membership, including the retired, students and the self-employed. If only employees are included, LO’s membership was 776,310 and FTF’s was 371,076 at the end of 2018.)  LO unions organised both manual and non-manual workers in the private and public sectors, while FTF was largely made up of unions which organise public sector employees like civil servants, teachers and nurses, but it also included some private sector non-manual workers, particularly in banking and finance.


The second largest grouping is the Akademikerne, which organises graduate level employees in the public and private sectors. Its 25 affiliated unions have 393,000 members (246,759 if only employees are included).[6]


There are also 468,596 members organised in union bodies outside these two main confederations. The largest is the Christian union Krifa, with 114,520 members, followed by LH (Lederne), which organises managers and executives and has 106,746 members. (These figures and those for the rest of this section are for employees only as at 31 December 2018.).


Both the FH and Akademikerne confederations are made up of a large number of separate unions.


A majority of the more than 80 FH unions are either relatively small craft unions (former LO affiliates) or specialist non-manual and technical unions (former FTF affiliates) but some have a wider and much larger membership. The four largest unions in FH are all former LO affiliates:  3F, which is a general workers’ union and has 226,271 members; HK, which organises shop and clerical workers and has 179,262 members; FOA, which organises public employees and has 153,985 members; and Dansk Metal, the metalworkers’ union, which has 72,399 members. The next four are former FTF affiliates: the nursing union with 62,770 members; the teachers’ union with 58,179; BUPL for staff in childcare institutions with 55,480 and the finance union FF, with 39,011. Overall the union structure is complex, particularly for the former LO unions, 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 largest Akademikerne affiliates are the society of engineers, with 74,099 members, the Association of Lawyers and Economists with 61,569 and the Dansk Magisterforening (DM), with 33,453 members, which organises employees with a higher degree.


The individual unions are independent but the central organisations, particularly LO in the past and FH in the future, 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. With FTF (like Akademikerne) insisting on complete independence from political parties, the issue of the political stance of the new FH confederation was important in the merger discussions between LO and FTF. A jointly agreed statement of political principles makes it clear that the new confederation will be independent in party political terms, but that it is willing to cooperate with parties and organisations that “can best promote the interests and influence of the trade union movement”.[7]


Although remaining high relative to other countries, the proportion of employees organised in unions has fallen in recent years. The Statistics Denmark figures show that, over the period 2012 to 2018, the total number of union members who are employees at the end of the year actually increased – by 2.9%, but the total number of employees has increased by 8.8% (figures for December). On this basis, union density dropped from 71.2% to 67.3% over six years.


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. Akademikerne, which organise more highly skilled employees, has seen its membership rise by 23.9% over the period 2012 to 2018,[8] and FTF experienced a 6.6% membership growth, while LO unions lost 13.2% of their membership.


There has also been a growth in the number of union members outside the three main union confederations. Excluding the managers’ union LH (Lederne), the membership of unions outside LO, FTF (now FH) and Akademikerne has grown by 31.8% between 2012 and 2018, from 274,514 to 361,850. These unions generally have lower subscription rates than the unions in the confederations. For example, one of largest, Det Faglige Hus, which has 50,824 members, up from 17,126 in 2012, describes itself as “Denmark’s cheapest union” and sells itself on the legal and other services it provides to members rather than its negotiating skills.[9]  


Unions, particularly former LO affiliates, 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 51.1% of trade unionists who are employees. This is higher than the proportion of all employees who are women, which is 48.2%. As more men than women work in Denmark, this means that the union density ret for women at 72.7% is well above that for men at 64.8%.


There are some differences between the confederations. In the unions comprising FH, 55.5% are women (48.9% in the former LO unions and 69.4% in the former FTF unions). In Akademikerne, women account for 49.4% of the membership, and in the managers union LH (Lederne) the figure is 29.7%.In the other unions outside the two main confederations 44.5% of the members are women. (All figures are for 31 December 2018.)

[1] See Statistics Denmark for the figure for employees and union websites for the figures for total membership for individual confederations   

[2] Calculated on the basis of total union membership of 1,862,741 at 31 December 2018 and total employment of 2,767,426 in December 2018 – both figures from Statistics Denmark

[3] Udviklingen i den faglige organisering: årsager og konsekvenser for den danske model, by Jesper Due and Jørgen Steen Madsen. 2010, LO-dokumentation 1/2010.

[4] J. Visser, ICTWSS Database. version 6.0. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS), University of Amsterdam. June 2019

[5] Mulighederne for fagbevægelsen frem mod 2020, September 2014 https://www.lo.dk/Nyheder/Nyhedsarkiv/2014/09/~/media/LO/Aktuelt/Nyheder_2014/2108_Muligheder_2020.ashx (Accessed 16.04.2015)

[6]  Medlemstal http://www.ac.dk/om-akademikerne/medlemstal.aspx (Accessed 12.12.18) and Statistics Denmark

[7] Statement of political principles, LO and FTF, 13 April 2018 https://www.ftf.dk/fileadmin/Bruger_filbibliotek/Om_FTF/nyHO_politisk-grundlag.pdf (Accessed 14.12.2018)

[8] For the purposes of this calculation and the that covering the grow in unions outside the confederations, the professional engineers union, which re-joined  Akademikerne in 2013, has been included as an Akademikerne affiliate throughout the period,

[9] See Det Faglige Hus: member benefits https://www.detfagligehus.dk/medlemsfordele/ (Accessed 23.07.2019)

L. Fulton (2021) National Industrial Relations, an update (2019-2021). Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.