Some of us have probably heard the concept of a union, although many of us, international students, don’t clearly know what it is for and how we can make use of it in Denmark. And what we especially don’t know is that we have some rights as employees here…
That is why we talked to Daniel Buur Christensen, representing the union 3F who “elucidated” for us the advantages of a union membership for students.
But first, let’s differentiate between an A-kasse and a union.
A-kasse vs Union
As a student you can become a free member of an A-kasse, which is the unemployment insurance fund. This basically guarantees that if you graduate and don’t find a job right away, you are entitled to receive unemployment benefits. Read more about it in our article specifically covering A-kasse into more detail.
The trade union, on the other hand, focuses on those that already have a job (part- or full-time). The union deals with everything related to pay rights, working rights and even health and safety in your work environment.
Many companies/employers sign collective agreements with the trade unions, where the pay, working hours and working conditions are negotiated.
As an employee, it is entirely optional to be a member of a trade union, but if you want to become a member, you have to choose the union that tackles specifically your working area (e.g. engineering, cleaning, restaurant jobs). At the end of this article, you can find some examples of trade unions in Denmark, that offer free membership for students.
In order to benefit from the union’s help and guidance, you have to be a member of that union.
Based on our experience, most of the international students have blue-collar student jobs, especially in the beginning of their studies (dishwashing, warehouse work, food delivery, cleaning etc.). Unfortunately this is also the area where you can get cheated on the most by your employer.
That is why for some of us it’s important to consider becoming a union member.
The union membership fee for students varies from union to union, but it usually is quite affordable and sometimes even free.
How the union can help students
Fair employment contract
When you find a student job and you receive a contract, make sure you ask for some time to take it home and read it.
Now, if your Danish is not the best (most contracts are in Danish) and you don’t really know what to look for in a contract, then as a union member, you can simply call the union and ask them to check it.
They will then make sure that all the labor rules are respected, and if your employer has an agreement with the union, they can also make sure the agreement rules are abided by.
How to find out whether your employer has an agreement with a union
It should be mentioned in the contract, but if it’s not, then you can call the specific union/s for your job’s area and ask about it. You can also ask your boss.
Of course, you can also check your contract yourself: see if your employer has an agreement with a union (usually mentioned in the contract) and if they do, then you can read the agreement (although most of the time it’s too long and boring, so it’s easier to call the union). You should also check the pay rate and the amount of working hours you are guaranteed.
If no working hours are guaranteed…
...try to ask your employer about it and make sure they put it in the contract!
Otherwise, it can happen that you go weeks without any work and it might be also more difficult to apply for SU (of course, this doesn't happen all the time, so do not get discouraged by that).
Unfortunately, if no hours are guaranteed (and written in the contract), the union cannot do anything about it, but making sure your contract and the labor rules are respected.
Problems with your pay
The most common cases students bring forth to their union are usually related to not receiving the pay they were entitled to.
Either you don’t receive an extra rate for working overtime, working in the evening or weekend, or you simply don’t receive the pay you were promised, make sure to get in touch with your union for help.
If it turns out you were cheated for a long time, the union can retrieve the missing amount for up to 5 years in the past, considering you have been a member in those years.
Sometimes , if you discover you are cheated by your employer and you involve the union over a more significant amount of money, keep in mind that your employer might negatively react to that and fire you.
However, it’s also an option for you to resign first and then call up your union for assistance. Yes, they can still help even if you don’t work there anymore.
If your employer has an agreement with a union, you are entitled to a specific pay raise each year.
Besides this, you also have the right for a yearly personal pay raise talk with your employer. Normally, you should be informed about this, but in case you are not, don’t forget to bring it up with your employer. Even if the company you work for cannot afford to increase your hourly pay, you are at least entitled to have this talk.
Take notice that if your employer does not have an agreement with a union, you are neither entitled to a yearly pay raise nor to a personal talk.
Right to say no
Remember that you CAN SAY NO to your boss, in case you are unable to work on a certain day or are asked to do something outside your job description.
An advice that Daniel shared with us, is the danger of being friends with your boss. In this case, if you happen to have problems with your work, it might be even more difficult for you to bring it up with your “boss friend", say no to them or even involve the union. Make sure you don’t let yourself be taken advantage of.
If your employer has an agreement with a union, you are entitled to 6 weeks of paid holidays, while if they don’t, you can have 5 weeks paid holidays.
An advice in this regard would be to actually take those holidays especially if you are in the last year of your studies. Otherwise, when you graduate, you might find yourself unable to take holidays until you find a job and start earning vacation days.
According to the vacation rules, every month you work, you earn 2,08 days of paid vacation that you can use right away if you wish so (e.g. The vacation days you earned during September, you can already use in October). You can also collect them if you want a longer vacation at a later point.
That’s it for now, but we will keep updating this blog in case we discover new information. You are also welcome to share with us any information that would be relevant for this article.
Hope it was useful to you and if there's one thing we want to stress out of this article, it would be to always, always inform yourself about your rights.
Thanks once again to Daniel from 3F for sharing this information and advice with us all.
Here are some examples of unions that offer free student membership. Many of them also have some other perks, such as discounts for products/services from various companies. This list is far from exhaustive so do your own research as well.
Remember to make sure that the union you pick actually deals with your job or study field.
3F - for students working as dishwashers, cleaners, drivers, warehouse workers etc.
Djøf - free membership for the first 12 months
IDA - free membership for students in the first year; usually for engineering studies.
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