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Danish Labour Market Model: Lessons for South Africa

Copyright © 2024

Inclusive Society Institute

PO Box 12609

Mill Street

Cape Town, 8010

South Africa

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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form

or by any means without the permission in writing from the Inclusive Society Institute.


Views expressed in this report do not necessarily represent the views of the

Inclusive Society Institute or those of their respective Board or Council members.

February 2024

Author: Nicola Jo Bruns Bergsteedt

Editor: Daryl Swanepoel





Motivation and Background to the Trip


Introduction and Overview of the Danish Labour Market Model


The Flexicurity Concept


The Dual Pillars of Flexicurity


Integration and Balance


Tripartite Cooperation and Social Dialogue


Global Implications and Challenges


Historical Context and Development


Key Components of the Model


Impact on Employment Rates


Influence on Economic Growth and Stability


Effects on Social Equality and Worker Well-Being


Comparison with Other Labour Market Models


Sustainability and Cost Concerns


Adapting to Evolving Labour Patterns


Addressing Inequality and Labour Market Segmentation


The Critical Role of Unions and Employer Associations


Summary of Findings


Impacts and Challenges


The Future of the Danish Labour Market Model


Lessons Learned


Reflections for BUSA


Holistic Sustainability Approach


Innovation and Collaboration in Labour Relations


Exemplary Work-Life Balance Practices


Commitment to Environmental Sustainability


Inclusive and Comprehensive Social Welfare


Overall Reflections


Reflections for COSATU


Main Takeaways


Learning for South Africa


Improving Labour Relations


Mutual Learning


Recommendations and Conclusions




Establishment of Workplace Forums


Creation of a Labour-Business Compact


Transition Support and Basic Income Research




1. Introduction


This report delves into a comparative analysis of the labour and business relationships in South Denmark. The aim is to uncover valuable insights and lessons that South Africa can learn from The Danish labour market model, known for its balance and effectiveness in fostering a collaborative environment between labour and business.

South Africa's labour market is heavily influenced by its historical context, particularly the legacy of apartheid. This backdrop has led to a labour framework that is protective of workers' rights but often cited as rigid by the business community. The high unemployment rate and stark income inequality further complicate the labour-business relationship, making it a crucial area for policy focus and reform.

Denmark, in contrast, presents a unique and successful labour model known as "flexicurity”. This model is characterised by labour market flexibility, strong social security for workers, and an emphasis on mutual agreement and collaboration between employers, employees, and the government. The Danish model has garnered international acclaim for achieving a balance between employee security and business agility.

The purpose of the study trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, was primarily to comprehensively understand the Danish labour-business compact. This venture was important, as it aimed to gather insights and practical knowledge from one of the world's most successful labour models.


The delegation that embarked on this journey comprised a diverse and expert cohort from South Africa, including key representatives from the Inclusive Society Institute, Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). This assembly of varied perspectives – encompassing policy analysts, business leaders, and trade union representatives – was intentionally designed to ensure a holistic understanding of the Danish labour market model. The core objective was to extract valuable lessons and strategies that could be adapted and applied to the South African context, with the ultimate goal of fostering a more collaborative, efficient, and equitable labour-business relationship back home. This trip was not just about observation and study; it represented a proactive step towards possible and tangible change and improvement in the South African labour market and business environment.


The primary goal participants hoped to achieve during this research trip was to glean actionable lessons and strategies that could be tailored and implemented within the South African context. The objective was to explore and understand the mechanisms and policies that underpin the Danish model's success, particularly how it balances the interests of labour and business to create a harmonious and productive environment. By doing so, participants sought to identify practices and principles that could be adapted to enhance the labour-business relationship in South Africa, aiming to create a more collaborative, dynamic, and equitable labour market. This study trip was envisaged as a crucial step in driving substantive change and progress in the country’s labour and business practices, moving towards a model that benefits all stakeholders in the South African economy.


The cohort participated in meetings and presentations held at various locations during their visit, which included:

  • Arbejdernes Landsbank, where they attended a presentation by Ms. Sofie Holme Andersen, Chief Economist at Arbejderbevægelsens Erhvervsråd. The topic of the presentation was "South Africa's Potential Inspiration from Denmark's Social Model".

  • A meeting with former Finance Minister, Mogens Lykketoft, to discuss the formation of the Danish labour market model.

  • A visit to the Arbejdermuseet, where they gained insights into the daily lives of Danish working-class families in the historical assembly hall dating back to 1879, located in the heart of Copenhagen.

  • Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) in København, where they attended a presentation by DI's Signe Sørensen about DI's efforts in Social Dialogue.

  • 3F Danish Trade Union, where Jesper Nielsen provided information about 3F, Denmark's largest and most influential trade union and unemployment fund.

  • A presentation by labour market economist, Professor Per Kongshøj Madsen, who discussed various aspects of the Danish labour market under the theme "Upstairs and Downstairs on the Danish Labour Market".


The primary objectives of this report are:


  • To provide a detailed comparison of the South African and Danish labour/business models.

  • To identify key aspects of the Danish model that contribute to its success.

  • To explore how elements of the Danish approach could be adapted or implemented in the South African context, considering its unique socio-economic challenges.


The analysis aims not just to contrast the two models, but also to offer a pathway for South Africa to enhance its labour relations, improve the business climate, and ultimately foster a more inclusive and dynamic economy. The lessons drawn from the Danish model could be instrumental in guiding South Africa towards a more harmonious and productive labour-business relationship.


2. Motivation and Background to the Trip


In 2022, the Inclusive Society Institute, in collaboration with the Economic Council of the Labour Movement (Denmark) published a paper exploring the potential benefits of applying Denmark's Social Model to South Africa. This paper delves into the intricacies of the Scandinavian social model, particularly focusing on Denmark, and considers how South Africa might draw inspiration from Danish societal organisations.


This research was motivated by President Cyril Ramaphosa's proposal to establish a written social compact in South Africa, aimed at addressing the nation's critical issues, primarily its struggling economy. The paper examines this proposed social compact and its goal to unite diverse stakeholders in tackling major challenges like skyrocketing unemployment, growing wealth inequality, deep-seated poverty, and a faltering economy. The success of this compact depends on mutual cooperation, trust, and respect. However, the existing relationship between Business and Labour in South Africa is often marked by scepticism. Labour groups are prone to strike when their demands, particularly for significant wage increases, are not met, as Mkentane (2022) notes. On the other hand, businesses frequently argue that strict labour laws impede job creation. The tension is evident, especially following a statement from Cosatu, South Africa's largest trade union, advocating for national strike action as a response to perceived class warfare by employers.


The 2022 report looks to the Danish social model for potential solutions, noting how Scandinavian labour markets, including Denmark, have managed to harmonise high prosperity and employment levels with low poverty and equality. This balance is credited to effective collective bargaining, an extensive public welfare system, and a strong social safety net, supported by flexible employment regulations. Although these features have evolved from unique historical circumstances specific to Scandinavia, the Danish model specifically offers valuable lessons in achieving a balance between social welfare and economic growth.


The 2022 paper specifically focuses on the Scandinavian social model, with an emphasis on Denmark, and contemplates how South Africa could adapt aspects of Danish society to address its own economic and social hurdles.


Building on this research, the 2024 initiative includes a visit to Copenhagen to gain first-hand insights from businesses and workers about the Danish Labour Model, further enriching the understanding of its applicability to South African challenges. It is encouraged that this report is read in unison with the 2022 paper.


3. Introduction and Overview of the Danish Labour Market Model


The Danish Labour Market Model, as aptly described by The Confederation of Danish Industry – Denmark's foremost business and employers' association – encapsulates the ethos of 'strong companies in a strong society'. In Denmark, both the business and labour sectors are excelling, owing to this exemplary model. They are not just building robust companies but are also integrating them seamlessly into a resilient societal fabric. This remarkable success is a clear testament to the model's innovative design and the effective processes it has in place.


The origins of the Danish labour market model can be traced back to the early 20th century, but it was in the 1990s that the term "flexicurity" began gaining traction (Wilthagen, 1998). Denmark's approach evolved in response to the challenges posed by globalisation and the shifting paradigms of the post-industrial economy. Unlike the more rigid labour systems in many countries, where stringent regulations often govern hiring and layoffs, the Danish model provides a high degree of latitude to employers. This flexibility is seen as key to fostering a dynamic, adaptable labour market, capable of quickly responding to changing economic conditions.


However, what sets the Danish model apart is not just its flexibility but also the robust social welfare system that underpins it. The safety net in Denmark includes generous unemployment benefits, extensive retraining programmes, and a strong emphasis on active labour market policies. These policies aim to assist the unemployed in returning to work as quickly as possible, through initiatives like job training, education programmes, and work trials. The state plays a proactive role in ensuring that workers are not left stranded by economic shifts but are instead equipped with the skills and opportunities to navigate the changing landscape.


The model also embodies a unique collaboration between the government, employers, and trade unions. This tripartite arrangement fosters an environment of mutual trust and cooperation, ensuring that labour market policies are crafted and implemented in a manner that balances the needs of all stakeholders. Collective bargaining, a cornerstone of the Danish labour market, allows workers and employers to negotiate wages and working conditions, leading to a harmonious and productive work environment.


Internationally, the Danish labour market model has been praised for its ability to maintain low unemployment rates, high job mobility, and a high level of worker satisfaction. Its success lies in its ability to combine flexibility for employers with security and opportunities for employees. This equilibrium not only enhances economic efficiency but also promotes social cohesion and stability, making the Danish workforce one of the most resilient and agile in the world.


Yet, the model is not without its challenges and criticisms. Concerns have been raised about the sustainability of the extensive welfare system, especially in the face of demographic changes and economic pressures. Additionally, there are debates about the model's inclusivity and its ability to address the needs of all segments of the workforce, particularly in light of increasing automation and digitisation.


The Danish labour market model, with its innovative approach to balancing flexibility and security, serves as a fascinating case study in labour economics and social policy. As countries around the world grapple with the challenges of the 21st-century economy, the lessons from Denmark's experience offer valuable insights into the creation of a resilient, dynamic, and inclusive labour market.


Next, we break down flexicurity, one of the key components that make up the Danish Labour Market Model.


4. The Flexicurity Concept


Flexicurity, a blend of "flexibility" and "security", is an innovative labour market policy framework primarily developed in Denmark. It has garnered widespread attention in Europe for its unique approach to modern labour market challenges (Wilthagen, 1998). This concept uniquely combines flexible labour relations with robust social security systems, aiming to balance the needs of employers and employees in a dynamic global economy.


4.1 The Dual Pillars of Flexicurity


Labour Market Flexibility: Central to flexicurity is the advocacy for a labour market adaptable to changes and technological advancements. This includes easier hiring and firing processes, which encourage businesses to quickly adapt, fostering economic dynamism, and promoting job creation.


Job Security and Social Protection: Counterbalancing flexibility, the model emphasises a strong safety net through comprehensive unemployment benefits, high-quality retraining and upskilling programmes, and active labour market policies (OECD, 2022). These policies, including vocational training and career counselling, ensure workers remain employable during industrial and technological shifts.


4.2 Integration and Balance


Flexicurity challenges the traditional view that flexibility and security are mutually exclusive (Madsen, 2023). Instead, it posits that when integrated effectively, these elements can be mutually reinforcing, ensuring economic efficiency alongside social fairness.



4.3 Tripartite Cooperation and Social Dialogue


A key to the success of flexicurity lies in strong cooperation between the government, employers, and workers' representatives. In Denmark, this collaboration has been crucial in shaping policies that benefit all parties, with collective bargaining playing a central role.


4.4 Global Implications and Challenges


Flexicurity's track record, particularly in Denmark, shows its potential to achieve high employment, low unemployment, and equitable income distribution. Its principles are increasingly relevant in the face of automation and the changing nature of work, such as the gig economy.


However, implementing flexicurity is complex and context dependent. It requires significant investment in social welfare and labour market policies, and its success hinges on specific cultural and institutional contexts, posing challenges in diverse global environments (Eurofound, 2013).


Flexicurity represents a sophisticated approach to labour market policy, blending employer flexibility with employee security. As nations navigate the challenges of economic globalisation and technological change, flexicurity offers insights into creating resilient, inclusive, and dynamic labour markets for the future.


5. Historical Context and Development


The evolution of the flexicurity model epitomises a seminal exploration in the realms of labour market innovation and socio-economic adaptation (Madsen, 2007). The development of this model mirrors Denmark's strategic responses to fluctuating economic scenarios and labour market exigencies over time (Bredgaard, Larsen & Madsen, 2005).


Denmark's journey towards flexicurity commenced in the early 20th century with the genesis of its welfare state (Kvist, Pedersen & Köhler, 2008). This period was marked by policy initiatives aimed at broad social protection, laying the foundation for the extensive welfare systems, which later became a cornerstone of the flexicurity concept (Greve, 2011).


The aftermath of World War II saw Denmark, akin to its European counterparts, augmenting its welfare policies (Esping-Andersen, 1990). This expansion paralleled economic growth, but by the 1970s and 1980s, Denmark confronted new challenges such as economic recessions, oil crises, and intensifying global competition (Jørgensen, 2009). These challenges underscored the limitations inherent in a labour market characterised by rigid employment protections, thereby catalysing a paradigm shift towards greater labour market flexibility and security (Torfing, 1999).

"Flexicurity" garnered significant traction in the 1990s, in the wake of Denmark's labour market reforms, which were aimed at addressing surging unemployment and adapting to the forces of economic globalisation (Wilthagen & Tros, 2004). These reforms encompassed measures to augment labour market flexibility, such as the relaxation of hiring and firing regulations, while concurrently strengthening the social security system to support the unemployed (Andersen, 2023).


A hallmark of the Danish strategy was the tripartite dialogue between the government, employers, and labour unions (Rasmussen & Høgedahl, 2021). This collaboration was pivotal in devising policies that judiciously balanced economic imperatives with worker protections. The consensus-driven nature of the 1990s reforms was instrumental in securing broad acceptance and efficacious implementation of the flexicurity model.


During this period, Denmark significantly fortified its active labour market policies, central to its flexicurity framework (Andersen & Svarer, 2007). These policies were geared towards enhancing employability, curtailing unemployment spells, and fostering workforce adaptability, with initiatives like comprehensive vocational training and re-skilling programmes tailored to align workforce competencies with market needs (Madsen, 2004).


By the early 2000s, the Danish flexicurity model had garnered international acclaim for its efficacy in sustaining high employment levels and social cohesion (European Commission, 2013. It was lauded for its innovative approach to striking a balance between labour market flexibility and robust social security. Nonetheless, the model faced challenges, necessitating adaptation to phenomena like the global financial crisis and evolving work paradigms, including the gig economy and digitalisation (Ibsen & Thelen, 2017).


The flexicurity model has demonstrated a dynamic evolution, continually adjusting to new economic and social realities (Auer & Cazes, 2003). Its foundational principles have exerted influence on labour market policies in various countries, notably within the European Union (Wilthagen, 2007).


The historical trajectory of the flexicurity model exemplifies Denmark's proactive and adaptive stance in addressing labour market challenges (Madsen, 2007). By harmonising employer flexibility with employee security, the model has continually evolved, maintaining its relevance and prominence in global labour market policy discourse (Bredgaard, Larsen & Madsen, 2005).


6. Key Components of the Model


The model combines labour market flexibility for employers with security for employees, fostering both economic vitality and social protection (Andersen & Svarer, 2007).


At its core, flexicurity centres around labour market flexibility, emphasising eased regulations in hiring and firing to allow businesses to rapidly adapt to economic changes, technological progress, and market variations (Madsen, 2007). This approach lessens the administrative and financial burdens tied to employment changes, enhancing business agility (Wilthagen, 2007).


To balance this flexibility, the model includes a comprehensive social security system, featuring extensive unemployment benefits for significant income replacement over extended periods. These benefits are integral in providing financial stability and enabling a less pressured job search (Wilthagen & Tros, 2004).


Active Labour Market Policies are pivotal and designed to expedite the reintegration of unemployed individuals into the workforce. They encompass initiatives like job training, skill development, and career counselling, aligning with modern labour market requirements (Larsen & Andersen, 2007).


The model also stresses lifelong learning and continuous skill development to maintain workforce adaptability in the face of rapidly evolving work environments. Continuous education and training are essential for keeping pace with new technologies and industry shifts (Eurofound, 2007).


The success of flexicurity is further attributed to robust social dialogue and cooperation among government, employers, and trade unions. This tripartite approach is vital for shaping labour policies that benefit all parties, with collective bargaining playing a key role (Rasmussen et al, 2016).


Emphasising equality and inclusivity, the Danish model ensures that various societal groups, including the young, older workers, and marginalised groups, have equal access to employment and training opportunities (Eurofound, 2012).


A defining feature of flexicurity is its inherent adaptability to economic and social changes, with policies continuously evolving in response to globalisation, technological advancements, and shifts in work patterns (European Commission, 2013).


In summary, the flexicurity model integrates key components like labour market flexibility, comprehensive social security, ALMPs, lifelong learning, social dialogue, inclusivity, and adaptability. This framework supports economic growth and social protection, drawing the interest of policymakers worldwide.


6.1 Impact on Employment Rates


The flexicurity model has a significant impact on employment rates. Studies show that Denmark's application of flexicurity is associated with consistently higher employment and lower unemployment rates compared to many European countries (Heyes, 2011). The model's emphasis on labour market flexibility enables employers to swiftly adapt to economic changes, fostering a dynamic job market and frequent job creation. In tandem, the extensive welfare system and active labour market policies in Denmark ensure that unemployed individuals receive adequate support and training, shortening the duration of unemployment and sustaining high labour market participation (Andersen & Svarer, 2007).

6.2 Influence on Economic Growth and Stability


Flexicurity also plays a crucial role in promoting economic growth and stability. The flexibility component of this model encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, as it allows businesses to quickly respond to market opportunities without the constraints of stringent employment laws. This responsiveness is pivotal in driving economic growth and fostering new industry development. Additionally, the security facet of flexicurity, particularly the robust social safety net, is essential in stabilising the economy during downturns. By guaranteeing financial support during periods of unemployment, the model helps sustain consumer spending, a key element for economic stability.


6.3 Effects on Social Equality and Worker Well-Being


In terms of social equality and worker well-being, the flexicurity model has positive implications. The comprehensive social safety net under this model prevents workers from descending into poverty during unemployment periods. Furthermore, active labour market policies are designed to avert long-term unemployment, which can lead to social exclusion and inequality. The emphasis on lifelong learning and skill development under flexicurity aids workers in adapting to evolving labour market demands, thereby reducing the risk of job obsolescence, and enhancing career prospects.


6.4 Comparison with Other Labour Market Models


When juxtaposed with other labour market models, like those in the United States or Southern Europe, Danish flexicurity presents a unique equilibrium. In the U.S., the labour market is marked by high flexibility but low job security and weaker social safety nets, often leading to greater income inequality and reduced social protection for the unemployed. Conversely, some Southern European countries feature highly protective labour markets with strict employment laws, which can inhibit job creation and lead to high long-term unemployment rates, especially among youth.


The Danish flexicurity model strikes a balance between these extremes, melding the flexibility seen in liberal market economies with the social security characteristic of more protective models. This balance has been effective in maintaining high employment rates, spurring economic growth and stability, enhancing social equality, and ensuring worker well-being (Larsen, 2022). However, it's pertinent to acknowledge that the success of the flexicurity model is also contingent upon Denmark's specific socio-economic context, including its strong welfare state, culture of social dialogue, and relatively small and homogeneous population, factors that may limit the model's direct applicability in other contexts (Wilthagen, 1998).


The Danish flexicurity model, while acclaimed for its balanced approach to labour market management, raises important discussions about its sustainability and cost, its role in addressing inequality and  labour market segmentation, and the critical function of unions and employer associations.


6.5 Sustainability and Cost Concerns


A critical aspect of the Danish flexicurity model is its sustainability, particularly in light of the financial demands of a comprehensive social safety network. The model's viability partially hinges on considerable public investment in welfare and active labour market policies, financed through elevated taxation (Green & Harris, 2021). The model's fiscal sustainability, in the context of economic fluctuations, demographic shifts, and evolving labour dynamics due to globalisation and technological changes, is a point of contention (Jensen, 2022).


6.6 Adapting to Evolving Labour Patterns


The changing nature of work, including the emergence of gig economy and contract-based jobs, challenges traditional social security systems predicated on stable, full-time employment. Modifying the model to ensure extensive coverage in this evolving employment landscape presents significant financial and administrative hurdles.


6.7 Addressing Inequality and Labour Market Segmentation


Despite its inclusive objectives, the flexicurity model grapples with inequality and labour market segmentation. Notably, the disparity in security between permanent and temporary or gig economy workers is pronounced, with the latter often having limited access to social benefits and active labour market policies (Andersen, 2023). Additionally, the model's effectiveness in integrating marginalised groups, such as immigrants and the long-term unemployed, into the labour market is crucial for diminishing social inequality and preventing labour market fragmentation (Heyes, 2011).


6.8 The Critical Role of Unions and Employer Associations


Unions and employer associations are pivotal in the Danish labour market, embodying a collaborative approach to governance. Their substantial involvement in collective bargaining helps balance employer flexibility with worker rights (Ibsen & Mailand, 2011). These organisations' significant roles in policy development and the administration of the welfare state, including unemployment insurance funds, underscore their importance in tailoring programmes to workforce needs, thereby enhancing the initiatives' effectiveness (Jørgensen & Schulze, 2011).


6.9 Summary of Findings


The Danish labour market, characterised by its 'flexicurity' approach, represents a unique and effective combination of employment flexibility and comprehensive social security. This model encompasses several key elements:


  • Labour Market Flexibility: This involves streamlined processes for hiring and firing, enabling businesses to promptly respond to economic shifts.

  • Comprehensive Social Security: It provides substantial support for the unemployed, including generous unemployment benefits.

  • Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs): These policies facilitate the swift reintegration of unemployed individuals into the workforce through training and skill development.

  • Lifelong Learning: This component promotes ongoing skill enhancement to align with evolving job market demands.

  • Tripartite Cooperation: Involving government, employers, and unions in policymaking, ensures balanced and practical labour market reforms.

  • Equality and Inclusivity Focus: The model strives to offer equal opportunities across all societal segments, including marginalised groups.


7. Impacts and Challenges


The flexicurity model has yielded positive outcomes, notably high employment rates, economic growth, and enhanced worker well-being. However, it faces challenges, including sustainability concerns due to high costs, addressing inequality and labour market segmentation, and adapting to the evolving nature of work.


8. The Future of the Danish Labour Market Model


The model's future success depends on its adaptability to various emerging trends and challenges:


  • Economic and Demographic Shifts: Addressing the fiscal sustainability of welfare systems amidst an ageing population and global economic changes is critical.

  • Globalisation and Technological Change: Adapting to an increasingly interconnected and digital global economy requires continuous skill development.

  • Rising Gig Economy: The growing prevalence of freelance and gig work necessitates the adaptation of traditional welfare and social security systems.

  • Environmental Sustainability: The transition to a green economy poses both challenges and opportunities for labour market adaptation.

  • Continued Role of Social Partners: The involvement of unions and employer associations remains crucial in negotiating fair labour practices and balancing employer flexibility with employee security.

  • Inclusivity and Equity: Addressing labour market segmentation and ensuring equal opportunities for all, including immigrants and temporary workers, is vital for maintaining social cohesion.

  • Policy Innovation: Continuous innovative policymaking, responsive to labour market trends and societal needs, is essential.

  • International Collaboration and Learning: Engaging in global dialogue and learning from other countries can enhance and refine the Danish model.


The Danish model of flexicurity, a paradigm of balancing labour market flexibility with social security, has significantly contributed to high employment, economic stability, and social well-being. Its future effectiveness hinges on adaptability to new economic realities, technological advancements, and workforce dynamics. Ongoing collaboration between government, employers, and unions, coupled with innovative policymaking, will be pivotal in sustaining the model's relevance and efficacy amid evolving challenges.


9. Lessons Learned


The study tour to Denmark offered an enriching exploration of the Danish labour market model, providing us with detailed insights and valuable lessons that extend beyond our initial observations. Here's an expanded view of the key takeaways, beyond the model in its impressive state:


9.1 Reflections for BUSA


9.1.1 Holistic Sustainability Approach


The Danish commitment to sustainability encompasses more than environmental concerns, integrating economic and social dimensions. This holistic perspective permeates the Danish business and social landscape, where companies prioritise social welfare and environmental stewardship alongside profitability. The efficiency and authority of the Danish legal system, particularly in swiftly addressing labour disputes, foster a culture of respect and compliance.


9.1.2 Innovation and Collaboration in Labour Relations


Central to the Danish model is the harmonious collaboration between employers, employees, and unions. This collaborative ethos is crucial for fostering an environment conducive to innovation and adaptability. In Denmark, labour relations are primarily governed through collective bargaining, supported by state endorsement of unions, ensuring mutually beneficial agreements based on real-world workplace dynamics.

9.1.3 Exemplary Work-Life Balance Practices


Danish industries set a benchmark for achieving a healthy work-life balance. The deeply ingrained policies of flexible working hours and parental leave significantly contribute to employee satisfaction and productivity, exemplifying corporate well-being initiatives.


9.1.4 Commitment to Environmental Sustainability


Denmark's commitment to environmental sustainability is both visible and impactful. The business integration of renewable energy, efficient waste management, and circular economy practices aligns with global efforts to combat climate change and promotes a culture of environmental responsibility.


9.1.5 Inclusive and Comprehensive Social Welfare


The inclusivity and comprehensiveness of the Danish social welfare system are remarkable. Universal access to healthcare and education not only supports individual well-being but also fosters a more cohesive society. Denmark's strategic approach to job offshoring in industries with decent work deficits balances global trade dynamics with domestic labour market integrity, while the investment in free tertiary education prepares a skilled workforce aligned with national economic and social objectives.


9.1.6 Overall Reflections


The Danish model offers key insights for South African businesses. The transparent and efficient functioning of government and labour institutions, free from corruption, establishes a trust foundation essential for effective social dialogue and collaboration. Embracing sustainable business practices, fostering a culture of collaboration and trust, and prioritising employee well-being are areas where South African businesses could derive significant benefits. The insights gained from this study tour provide a range of strategies and practices that, with appropriate adaptation, could enhance South Africa's labour market and economic landscape.


9.2 Reflections for Cosatu


9.2.1 Main Takeaways


The visit underscored the uniqueness of the Scandinavian model, particularly the Danish approach to labour market policies. Notably, there exists a self-regulated equilibrium between business and labour, with minimal government intervention, leading to a robust economy characterised by low unemployment, employer flexibility, and secure retraining and employment placement for workers.


The union density rate in Denmark, standing at 70%, reflects a strong appreciation for the role of unions by both employers and employees, albeit with concerns about a decline from the previous 80% rate. However, the impact of international migration on the Danish labour market, which seems to have sparked political and social tensions, was not deeply explored.


Emerging trends, such as the rise of e-platform work, present challenges, and the struggle to attract young workers to unions is a shared concern with South African unions.


9.2.2 Learning for South Africa


Initially, replicating the Danish model in South Africa seemed implausible. However, upon reflection, it offers viable ideas for South African labour market enhancement. South African businesses seek flexibility in hiring and firing, which is counterbalanced by labour's concerns over high unemployment and the lack of a comprehensive social security and training network. Building such a network could provide a foundation for future labour market reforms.


The level of trust and collaboration between business and labour in Denmark, independent of government intervention, is a crucial aspect to consider for South Africa's economic growth. Addressing the fragmentation and disconnection in the South African labour landscape, particularly in unionisation and employer associations, is vital.


9.2.3 Improving Labour Relations


To enhance labour relations in South Africa, key aspects to emulate from the Danish model include building trust and increasing unionisation and business association membership. Fostering a strong, trust-based working relationship and gradually developing a social security and training framework akin to Denmark's could be strategic. South Africa already has foundational elements like UIF, SRD Grant, NSFAS, SETAs, and NSF, which, despite challenges, could form the basis of this development.


9.2.4 Mutual Learning


South Africa's approach to legislative minimums and norms, particularly for atypical workers, could offer insights for Denmark. The close collaboration between government, business, and labour in South Africa, evident in responses to broader societal issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, showcases a model that Denmark could find beneficial. Additionally, the role of South African unions in championing broader social issues like National Health Insurance could be relevant to the Danish context, promoting a more active civil society consciousness.


10. Recommendations and Conclusions


In conclusion to the exploration of the Danish Labour Market Model and its applicability to South Africa, it's clear that transformative lessons and strategies can be gleaned to enhance the symbiotic relationship between labour and business within the South African context.


The journey towards a more collaborative, less adversarial labour-business environment requires a multi-faceted approach, incorporating lessons learned, inter alia, from the Danish model, particularly its flexicurity compact.


This concluding chapter proposes three actionable strategies aimed at fostering a cooperative labour-business landscape in South Africa, ultimately contributing to sustainable economic growth and social equity:


  • Shift from Adversarial to Collaborative Mindsets: The primary lesson from Denmark is the importance of perceiving labour and business not as adversaries but as co-builders of business success. This mindset shift is foundational for any substantive change in labour relations.

  • Importance of Continuous Dialogue and Education: Establishing platforms for continuous dialogue, like workplace forums, where both parties can engage in economic education, change management, and discussions on rights and responsibilities, is crucial for mutual understanding and growth.

  • Balancing Flexibility with Security: Denmark's flexicurity model demonstrates the value of balancing the flexibility in labour markets with security for workers, ensuring transitions between jobs are supportive and conducive to overall economic health.


10.1 Recommendations


10.1.1 Establishment of Workplace Forums


Enterprises should consider the introduction of workplace forums across where management and workers meet regularly to discuss:


  • The economy in order to instil a better understanding of business operations and economic fundamentals.

  • Change management aimed at collaboratively exploring ways to adapt to and manage changes within the business and industry.

  • Rights and responsibilities in order to equip workers and management with knowledge about their rights and responsibilities, fostering a sense of co-ownership and joint participation in the business's success.


10.1.2 Creation of a Labour-Business Compact


It is recommended that an informal dialogue be set in motion between Business and Labour, thereby opening communication channels between the two sides for purposes of ensuring an ongoing, constructive dialogue between labour and business leaders, which should focus on common goals and problem-solving strategies; to contemplate the role and extent of government involvement in labour relations; how to strengthen autonomy in decision-making to swiftly address and adapt to challenges and opportunities; and envision a shared vision for the economy, including commitments to limit protest actions to reasonable demand to work collectively towards a living wage, moving beyond the minimum wage paradigm.


Once sufficient consensus has been developed, the dialogue could be formalised either as an independent body or as a structure within NEDLAC.


10.1.3 Transition Support and Basic Income Research


Research should be undertaken to explore greater flexibility in the labour market, including how to expand support for those losing jobs, and measures, such as a basic income grant, to make job transitions smoother.


By adopting these strategies, South Africa can lay the groundwork for a labour-business relationship characterised by mutual respect, shared goals, and a robust, flexible economy. The journey towards these objectives will require commitment, openness to change, and continuous dialogue, but the rewards – a more inclusive, prosperous, and equitable society – are well worth the effort.


This conclusion not only encapsulates the delegation’s learnings, but it also charts a path forward, inspired by the Danish model, tailored to South Africa's unique challenges and opportunities.




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This report has been published by the Inclusive Society Institute

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