What's in an hour

A friend of mine used to work for Microsoft in Denmark. She was offered the opportunity to re-locate to the mothership in Seattle. While the challenge of a change was tempting, the miserable annual leave on offer in the US was not. In Denmark, there is a legal requirement for companies to give Danish workers five weeks leave a year. In the US there are no legal obligations for employers to offer any holidays, though most offer somewhere between 10 and 20 days. Unsurprisingly she turned the job down.


In terms of working hours, the Scandinavian countries are often held up as a positive example of how things could be, so it’s interesting to note that an effect of the banking crisis has been an attempt, in many countries, to row back on working time gains.  In Ireland, it is the neo-liberal ruling party, Fianna Fáil, which is proposing an increase in working hours. One of the conditions of the “Transformation Agenda” is that for teachers and lecturers work an extra hour a week. Whilst in Denmark, an even further-reaching policy is being proposed by the social democratic opposition party. The Social Democrats and Socialist People’s Party (SF) have included in their manifesto a plan to increase working hours accross the public sector from 37 hours to 38.

The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions is unhappy with the proposal. Thorkild E. Jensen, the president of trade union Danish Metal, said “I can’t envision that we’ll go along with increasing the working week by an hour for all employees.’ He could be right: According to Statistics Denmark’s ‘Workforce Survey 2009’, only 6 percent of the population is in favour of working more, while 14 percent are ready to work fewer hours. The remaining 80 percent are satisfied with the current 37 hour working week.

In contrast in Ireland, the leadership of many of the public sector unions supported the proposed extra hours. Perhaps in these two different trade union responses, we can understand why it is the Danish have their five-weeks of paid holidays a year