The Fehmarnbelt connection, the 18-kilometer-long immersed tunnel between Denmark and Germany, is the largest construction project in Danish history. The main contractor is the Femern Link Contractors (FLC), which consists of several companies, including Denmark's largest construction company Per Aarsleff A/S.
FLC had hired about 400 workers on the project in June 2021, many of whom were Polish and Romanian construction workers. Just as in Per Aarsleff A/S, the Polish and Romanian employees in FLC did not receive the same salary as their Danish Collecs. While Danes had a base salary of 185 kroner per hour, Poles and Romanians only had a base salary 140 kroner per hour.
3F regards this type of pay gap as discrimination, so 3F together with two Polish and one Danish trade union representative, raised the issue of discrimination with FLC during local negotiations. However just as with Per Aarsleff, the FLC management would not listen to reason and introduce equal pay.
Workers go on strike
There was great dissatisfaction with this wage difference among the Polish and Romanian workers. A dissatisfaction that was exacerbated by a number of other problems, and when the FLC even failed to pay a small supplement to the wages that the workers thought they had been promised, patience was exhausted.
About 300 Polish and Romanian workers went on strike spontaneously in the afternoon of Tuesday 29 June, and the next day, the strike continued and developed into a blockade as the strikers began blocking the driveway to the construction site, early in the morning. At the same time, about 50 Danish workers joined the strike, because they supported the demands of their Polish and Romanian colleagues for equal pay.
The strike was convicted in violation of the collective agreement
When the strike broke out, the collective agreement had been signed between FLC and 3F. The collective agreement says very clearly that workers are not allowed to strike for a better local wage agreement once a collective agreement has been signed.
See more here: https://tema.3f.dk/bjmfimmigrant/wages-and-working-hours/are-you-allowed-to-strike
As a co-signer of the collective agreement 3F must abide by the agreement, and encourage all its members also to abide by the agreement and stop the strike. However, the workers chose to continue the strike, despite 3F´s recommendation to return to work.
The FLC and the employers' organization therefore sued the strikers in labor court. The 30th of June, the striking workers in Fehmarn Link Projekt were fined by the labor court for striking in violation of the collective agreement. The fine was DKK 50 per hour for all the strikers, for the all working hours they have been on strike. And if the strike continued the fine would increase to DKK 80 for each hour. In accordance with the rules of the collective agreement, 3F once again urged the striking workers to resume work, but once again the workers chose to continue the strike.
Help from outside
During the proceedings in the labor court, members of various unions demonstrated in front of the labor court, to show their support for the striking workers. And the same day workers started to collect money to pay the fine, for the striking colleagues. The next day the Norwegian construction workers' union announced that they would donate NKK 100,000 to the collection. The Norwegian trade union is not a co-signatory to the Danish collective agreement, and is therefore not bound by the rules therein. The collection continued in the weeks that followed, and raised large sums.
The strike ends and an agreement was made
Throughout the process, 3F had helped the workers' elected representatives to negotiate an agreement with the FLC that could end the strike. And on Saturday, July 2, they managed to agree on a deal, and the strike ended.
The agreement with FLC contained many things, but the most important thing was that a fastworking committee had to reach an agreement within 10 days, which should result in a noticeable wage increase for the Polish and Romanian workers. FLC also accepted that none of the employees who participated in the strike would be fired. Exactly ten days later, the 12th of July, FLC and the union representatives managed to agree on how the new pay system should look like.
Equal pay on the Fehmarn Belt project
The new agreement states that all workers had a base salary of DKK 165 per hour and increases after a few months 'seniority until after 15 months' seniority they have DKK 185 per hour. At the same time, the workers are deducted 25 kroner per hour to pay for board and lodging when they live in the camp that FLC has built close to the construction site (aka the Village). The new agreement is implemented retroactively from the 1th of May 2022. Prior to the agreement, Polish and Romanian workers received a base salary of DKK 140 per hour, and increased after a few months 'seniority until after 15 months' seniority they had DKK 155 per hour.
The agreement does not give a large wage increase, when the DDK 25 for board and lodging is deducted. However FLC pays pension, SH and holiday pay of the wage increase before the 25 kroner is deducted. And more importantly, the wage agreement ensures wage equality. A principle that will certainly have huge significance in the future.
The work of improving conditions for all workers does not stop here. The fight continues.