Denmark is traditionally an open and liberal society, and has been at the forefront in ensuring the rights of sexual minorities, for example. Basic rights are ensured in the constitution and supplemented with additional laws focused on specific areas, including ethnicity and the labor market. Citizens can file complaints concerning issues of discrimination to the Board of Equal Treatment or opt to bring discrimination cases before the courts.
Discrimination can take various forms and can be perceived differently depending on position, history and social context. A key issue is the extent of discrimination in the labor market. Denmark is a country with high-labor force participation for both men and women, and therefore labor market participation should be seen in this perspective.
Gender-based discrimination in the labor market relates primarily to wages but also more generally to hiring and career options. Child care is a particular point in this context. Rules dealing with child leave have been expanded to extend the right (and duty) of fathers to take paternity leave, and financing arrangements have been changed to share the costs across employers. Since 2006 all employers are to contribute to a paternity fund which finances paternity leave, and thus avoids that such costs disproportionally fall on employers with a high level of female employees. A commission (Ligelønskommission) has been appointed to analyze the issue of gender-based wage discrimination in the labor market.
Frequently cases of discrimination in the labor market are reported in the press, with example of persons having difficulties in finding a job due to ethnic identifiers, such as the person’s name. Discrimination in the labor market can be statistical or racial. An employer may be more reluctant to hire a person with a foreign background, based on the assumption that such people have on average weaker job qualifications and thus infer that the job candidate in question does too. Discrimination can also be racial in nature. There is no thorough academic analysis that has attempted to separate these causes and evaluate the extent of discrimination in the labor market.
Indirect discrimination can appear in various forms. A notable area is in terms of rules and regulations which, on the one hand, are general and apply to all citizens, but on the other hand, targets particular groups and where the latter is the motivation for the regulation. One example is the requirement (introduced 2007) that for couples to qualify for social assistance they should show having worked at least 450 hours over the year (originally the law stipulated 300 hours), otherwise the state assumes that one member of the couple is not considered to be actively interested in work and the right to social assistance is lost. While a universal law, the incidence of couples where both people claim social assistance is highest among immigrants with a background from poorer countries, and hence this rule de facto targets this group. Similar reasoning applies to the change in eligibility for social assistance, which now requires residence in Denmark for seven of the eight previous years. If this condition is not met, a lower level of assistance is offered. This can be seen as a breach of the universality principle that underlies the social safety net.
Immigration laws were tightened after the liberal-conservative government came to power in 2001. One particular controversial law was the tightening of rules for family unification. To bring a spouse to Denmark it is required that both persons in the couple are at least 24 years old, in additional to a number of other requirements; there is also an economic test. This rule has several motivations. One is to prevent arranged marriages, in particular involving very young girls. Another is to restrict family unification in particular, and thus immigration in general. While the political support for this rule was related to Denmark’s immigration issues, the rule also affects Danish citizens. Hence, there are many examples of Danes being unable to bring their spouse into the country, and also of young couples settling in southern Sweden and commuting to work in Denmark.
A European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling in 2008 against a somewhat similar Irish law has since put pressure on the Danish legislation.
Political support for tighter immigration laws has come from the fact the minority government’s parliamentary base relies on cooperation with the Danish People‘s Party. However, most political parties have adopted more strict immigration views in recent years.
United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Denmark, 11 March 2010, available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/count ry,,,,DNK,,4b9e52fe87,0.html