“Who will care for you?” Danish nurses’ anger against their employers

Written by Jamie Szmitz & Sam Shaw

Tensions between Danish nurses and the Danish government are refusing to relax as a positive outcome is still needed.

Banner outside of Frederiksberg Hospital, Copenhagen.  Translates to “We are missing nurses.” Photographer: Jamie Szmitz

Banners have appeared outside of Frederiksberg Hospital and nurses continue to participate in hour long walk outs despite the legal prevention of strikes.  Since the Danish government intervened to put an end to the strike and force the nurses to take a small pay rise, there has been clear discontent from nurses all over Denmark.

Nurses are unhappy about the working conditions and current pay from their employers.  After 10 weeks of agreed striking between the Danish Nursing Society (DSR) and the Danish government the strikes were stopped.  Due to Danish labour law, this meant that nurses had to accept a 5% pay rise over 3 years which had previously been rejected.  The DSR have been forced to accept this as law and therefore have to advise against protests continuing.  Some nurses have continued with the hour-long walk out which was ongoing during the strikes, despite the risk of a fine.

The constant concern that the nurses can be fined for continual striking, or furthermore fired if it begins to prevent treatment for seriously ill patients has had a definite effect on the amount of nurses still taking action. The severity of punishment has managed to drive down the number of striking nurses dramatically, thanks to the Danish agreement known as “fredspriglt”, which in essence translates to “duty of peace”.

The agreement prevents employees from refusing to work without the legal grounds to do so, with striking not being seen as an applicable reason. This adds the risk to the nurses that are still striking that they may not get any further reward above their 5% pay rise over 3 years for their actions, as they are not on the same grounds as their employers. But over a thousand nurses are still willing to show their discontent with the government.

 One reason for the unrest between nurses is the poor working conditions and constant overworking.  Since the COVID pandemic began, nurses all around the world have had to work even harder to accommodate for the extra patients.  This has been no different in Denmark.  There is a substantial backlog of patients to see who could not be seen due to COVID being such a major issue; these patients cannot wait much longer.  On top of this, there are currently 5,000 vacancies within the health sector for nurses and doctors.  The nurses currently working now have to make up for the lost numbers.

Banner outside of Frederiksberg Hospital, Copenhagen.  Translates to: “We take care of you, you take care of us!” Photographer: Jamie Szmitz

The Danish government are not directly in charge of the nurses, it is the regional governments who are officially the employers.  This has frustrated many nurses as they feel that the government did not listen to the concerns that they were voicing. 

The DSR represent 80,000 nurses and say that around 1,500 are still currently protesting.  A spokesperson for the DSR told me “it’s now more of a symbolic thing, they don’t mind about losing an hours pay they just want to show their discontent.”  Therefore, the government will tolerate these protests until they pose a serious threat to Denmark’s health.  Until then, the DSR advises the employers to have a positive discussion with the nurses. 

Banner outside of Frederiksberg Hospital, Copenhagen.  Translates to: “Who will care for you?” Photographer: Jamie Szmitz

It is unclear when these signs of protest will stop now that the strikes have been made illegal, but if nothing else it has more than highlighted the state of the health sector in Denmark and made the DSR’s voice louder.   

Infographic: https://create.piktochart.com/output/56063959-nurse-strikes-copenhagen