Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 3 2005, page 12-33.
Between participation and co-determination
New forms of co-operation in municipalities and counties
During the last 20 years the public sector has undergone a process of decentralisation. Managers as well as employees are faced with new challenges, and existing systems for co-operation are continuously evaluated and adjusted. In 1996, the central representatives of labour market parties on the municipality level and county level in Denmark agreed to make a framework agreement for a renewed system of cooperation in municipalities and counties – called the MED-agreement. The idea was to replace the existing work councils (called SU-councils) with a more dynamic MED-council. The purpose of the MED-council is to integrate health and safety issues in the discussions on personnel policies and to enhance employee participation and co-determination. The paper presents the most important results of an evaluation of the co-operations system in municipalities and counties. Firstly, the paper briefly presents the research design. Secondly, one of the main barriers for implementation of a new co-determination system, namely different expectations of management and employees, are discussed – along with other barriers for implementation of the new system. Thirdly, the paper shows that though participation and co-determination are enhanced in the traditional as well as the new system, they are more pronounced in the new system. Fourthly, it is shown how management’s experience improved decision-making by involving employee representatives, the point here being that maybe the most important changes regarding co-determinations (and management prerogative) is taking place in informal discussion locally. Fifthly, the role of the health and safety representatives in a new combined system is discussed, since not least their enhanced co-influence has been an important factor for all parties in implementing a new system. Finally, the paper discusses management’s mixed feeling about union representatives in co-operative councils. On one side, management principally finds it wrong that ‘outsiders’ should attend co-operative councils. On the other side, quite a few managers perceive union representatives not only as useful information channels, but also committed decision makers that can act on behalf of the majority of employees.