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The Battle against Monotonous work

| Text: Henrik Brun

Through the implementation of a series of initiatives, the Danish Minister of Labour, Ove Hygum, is aiming to improve conditions for the 200,000 Danish wage-earners who carry out the same monotonous work every day. However, according to the Confederation of Danish Industries (DI), it is being done in an amateurish way.

Firstly, a new tax was imposed on firms with a poor working environment. Then it was decided to give a grant to the initiative aimed to improve the working environment of 10 especially exposed job groups. The Minister then proposed special working environment inspections, a levy for which is to be paid by specifically selected firms. 

All of these are steps in the longterm plans of the Danish Minister of Labour, Ove Hygum, to clear up the working environment in Denmark – Pure Working Environment 2005. In particular, the 200,000 Danish wage-earners – approx. 10 % of the workforce – who carry out monotonous, repetitive work, are to have their working environments improved by a mixture of sticks and carrots to Danish employers.

The fact is that around 3,000 people each year report an industrial injury due to monotonous, tempo-dominated physical tasks. According to the National Danish Labour Inspection, the cost to society of monotonous, repetitive work is between DKK 7 and 9 billion a year. 

The three initiatives named above, all of which were launched this spring, are not being received with unreserved enthusiasm. Especially not the last of the initiatives, which has been called “amateurish” by DI’s working environment consultant, Jon Krog, because it “creates an unclear legal position for firms and discriminates against them i an unreasonable way”.

The Minister wants a special form of inspection financed by a levy paid only by firms in specially selected industries. This special inspection comprises an evaluation of “the firm’s own efforts to improve the working environment and an evaluation of the physical working environment.” 

But, according to Jon Krog, this is simply the same as the evaluation that is already being undertaken.

“It isn’t reasonable for the Minister of Labour to make firms in some industries pay for a ‘service’ that other firms get completely free,” contends Krog.

“If the legislation is adopted, it will simply increase the frustration of the many firms that are in fact doing an enormous amount of work in order to create a better working environment on a daily basis.”

 Danish working environment researcher, Hans Jeppe Jeppesen, stresses that many employees themselves help to exacerbate their own working environment, because the actual working hours have increased, even though there has been a fall in number of formal working hours in Denmark. 

“In many places, individual employees have got more influence on their work, and as a consequence have greater responsibility. There are indications that people have problems setting limits on themselves. In many ways we have become our own safety representatives,” says Jeppesen. 

This is the sort of trend that Labour Minister Ove Hygum aims to compensate by means of his initiatives. At the end of April, he authorised DKK 45 million for a special initiative affecting 10 work areas.

These are: cleaning operatives, chefs and cookery assistants, painters, unskilled workers in the metal and electronics industries, building orderlies and caretakers, waiters, fishermen, unskilled workers in the plastics industry, workers in the fishing industry and prison orderlies.

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