IT workers at war for the Danish wage

[Striking high-wage workers, such as these CSC computer programmers, could become a common sight as Danish companes face increasing competition from foreign companies] More than 300 workers picketed outside the Valby headquarters of IT company CSC Danmark last week, preventing many non-striking co-workers from coming to work.

“What we’re fighting for is, in actuality, the Danish model – and everything we have achieved over history,” one female striker, who was part of the blockade to keep non-striking CSC employees from getting to their jobs, told Berlingske newspaper. “If our colleagues can’t see that, then we just have to help them understand.”

The image of the organised blockade was reminiscent of history’s defining labour strikes. But unlike those labour agitators, the CSC strikers are not low-paid factory workers, but highly paid and highly educated IT specialists, fighting to hold their salaries and benefits, in the face of globalisation and pressure from skilled foreign workers who are willing to do their jobs for less. Some labour analysts see the CSC strike as a harbinger of things to come.

CSC Danmark is Denmark’s second largest private supplier of IT solutions. Its connections to the state go back decades and government ministries and public services rely heavily upon its data management services. If the strike continues, many fear that citizen services could be compromised or even grind to a halt.

The strikers – some 450 of CSC’s 2,900 employees – are IT specialists and members of the labour union Prosa. But they have also been blocking non-IT and non-Prosa colleagues from coming to their jobs.

Back in February, CSC told its employees who belonged to Prosa that they would have to take a ten percent paycut. They refused and Prosa and CSC went into arbitration.

According to CSC, the Prosa members’ salaries are 11 percent higher than the industry average at 14 competitor firms. Average base salaries for CSC’s Prosa union employees are between 48,000 and 50,000 kroner per month. Pension contributions, overtime and other benefits are an additional 8,000-9,000 kroner per month.

“We have an acute need to get the salaries and benefits for workers in Denmark on a level with the competition,” CSC’s head of Nordic Capability Management, Lars Lundsgaard, told Politiken newspaper.

Lundsgaard maintained that CSC was offering the Prosa members a fair deal, but that they would have to accept cuts to stay competitive with highly educated foreign workers and companies willing to work for less.

Arbitration between CSC and Prosa continued fruitlessly until earlier this month when Prosa’s members refused CSC’s final offer. The offer guaranteed their current salaries for three more years, but cut the existing layoff compensation package of 23 months of full salary by more than half. Other cuts included free lunches and stipends for training.

When the members rejected the final compromise, the strike rolled out in dramatic full-force and the conflict was handed over to the Labour Court.

If the Labour Court rules in Prosa’s favour, CSC will have to come to an agreement with the union and the strike and blockouts will most likely continue. But if the court releases CSC from its responsibility to Prosa, other unions who are willing to accept lesser compensation will likely swoop in.

Some labour specialists say the Prosa members could end up with less than CSC offered them in the deal they rejected.

CSC has labour agreements with other unions besides Prosa. One of them, HK/Privat, also represents IT workers, including some of the 190 strikebreakers CSC hired to stand in for the striking Prosa members – albeit on more stringent terms.

Last week the 190 strikebreakers were bussed into CSC headquarters amidst taunts of “scab” and boos from Prosa’s strikers, while police kept a watchful eye over the incendiary situation. Some of the 190 are Danish consultants, while others are foreigners brought in from CSC’s global sister companies.

“The conflict at CSC is a manifestation of the battle against pay cuts that the Danish job market faces in the future,” labour market researcher Anna Ilsøe, from the University of Copenhagen, said.

“There will be more pressure on Danish wages; lots of Danish workers could suddenly find themselves in a situation where they are negotiating a lower salary. I don’t think this is the last negotiation about wage cuts we will be seeing in Denmark.”

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