Early retirement for cleaners in Denmark

3rd of November 2020
Early retirement for cleaners in Denmark

ECJ’s Lotte Printz on the Danish government’s plan for early retirement for worn-out workers.

Prior to the general election last year, the Danes got on first-name terms with Arne Juhl, a 59-year-old brewery worker who became the personification of one of the Social Democratic party’s election pledges: to allow people in physically demanding jobs to retire early.

Now, after nearly a year-and-a-half in government - and a Covid-19 crisis and recovery plans in the meantime - the governing Social Democratic party has finally unveiled how its proposal will become reality.

The right to early pension applies to people who have been on the labour market at least 42 years by the time they reach the age of 61. In which case, such individuals are allowed to retire one year early (the current retirement age in Denmark being 66, currently going towards 67 and by 2030 changed to 68 due to increasing life expectancies). In addition, the proposed staircase model gives a right to retire two years early after 43 years on the labour market and three years early after 44 years.

“You should be able to stop working before you are worn out,” prime minister Mette Frederiksen said at a recent press conference, repeating the underlying argument in her party’s promise and the right for everyone to enjoy some good years of comfortable retirement, pursuing interests and spending time with family.

This could be good news for a number of cleaners. Like Sanne the chambermaid who the Danish public are also becoming familiar with through a new campaign launched by 3F, one of two major unions in Denmark representing cleaning and facilities workers.

“Sanne cleans 99,000 rooms in her lifetime,” one 3F campaign ad read in the wake of the government’s press conference.

3F is in line with the government when stating that those with the most physically demanding jobs are often those who have worked the longest and believes, not surprisingly, that the government’s plan is a giant step in the right direction - for Sanne, Arne and other named workers. However, with the campaign the union is working on making more workers eligible for the early pension scheme.

FOA, the other main union for cleaners in Denmark, also takes a positive view of the government’s plan. “The proposal is better than we expected. But there’s still some room for improvement. Either by lowering the 42 years - or by increasing the 61-year age limit that applies at the time of making up the number of working years,” FOA writes in an official announcement.

As FOA largely represents female workers, the union is particularly pleased with periods of part-time employment as well as time spent on maternity leave being fully included in working years. The same goes for apprenticeships and periods of unemployment, by the way.

FOA questions, however, whether the plan fully accounts for worn-out workers: you can be worn-out without having been on the labour market for 42 years, FOA points out.

Whether Sanne the chambermaid becomes a household name like Arne and whether a considerable number of cleaners will actually benefit from the plan are yet to be seen. A parliamentary majority reached agreement on the early retirement plan on October 10. And the first workers, roughly 38,000 Danes in total, can look forward to early retirement and grandchildren gamboling at their feet by January 1 2022.


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