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Europe — France is the real strike champion but Denmark had a bad year in 2008

30 August 2010

A new report from the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) reveals that between 2005 and 2009 the highest average levels of industrial action were found in Denmark (159.4 days lost per 1,000 workers) and France (132 days lost per 1,000 workers). The lowest levels were in Austria (no days lost) and Estonia (0.1 days lost). The average for all 25 countries researched was 30.6 days lost. The average in the new Member States (11 days lost) was only about a quarter of that in the old EU 15 plus Norway (43.6 days).

A rough comparison with the previous decade can be made on the basis of international comparative statistics, based on data from Eurostat, the International Labour Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), published by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) (Economic and Labour Market Review, April 2008).

According to this source, the average number of days lost over the period from 1997 to 2006 was 39 for the whole of the EU, based on data for 22 countries, and 42 for the EU15 minus Greece. The EIRO average for all countries of 30.6 days over the five years between 2005 and 2009 suggests an overall fall since the previous decade, although the figure for the EU15 has changed little.

For the five-year period from 2005 to 2009, the 25 European countries can be divided into three groups:
  • Countries where industrial action was at low levels, with an average of fewer than 20 working days lost per year for every 1,000 employees. This group includes all the central and eastern European countries for which data are available: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, along with Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden.
  • Countries where industrial action was at moderate levels, with an average of 20–60 working days lost per year for every 1,000 workers. This group is made up of Cyprus, Malta, Italy, Ireland, Norway and the UK.
  • Countries where industrial action was at relatively high levels, with an average of more than 60 working days lost per year for every 1,000 workers. This group comprises Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France and Spain.

However, the average figures for such a short period cannot give a proper picture of national trends since there are individual years when highly unusual levels of industrial action affect the figures disproportionately. For example, Denmark had an annual average of 23.7 working days lost if only 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 are considered. In 2008, however, a two-month strike over the renewal of pay agreements by nurses, child and youth educators and home carers employed by municipal and regional authorities accounted for 98% of the working days lost during that year, and the 2008 figures were the highest for a decade.

As a result, in 2008 Denmark recorded the highest annual figure (701.9) for working days lost per 1,000 workers of any country during the period from 2005 to 2009, inflating its annual average for the five-year period to more than 159 days lost per 1,000 workers. In the same way, Ireland's average between 2005 and 2009 was pushed up to 38 days lost per thousand workers by a one-day national public sector strike in 2009 in protest at pay and job cuts, accounting for more than 70% of the working days lost that year. Excluding the 2009 figures, the average was just 5.6 working days. Similar situations can be seen in Belgium and Finland in their 2005 figures.

To read the full report please click here



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