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FOA: No agreement on public holidays

Reports that unions have already agreed to axe some public holidays are incorrect, FOA says.

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Denmark’s third largest trade union has rejected as incorrect a report in Børsen that the unions and government have already agreed to get rid of two of the country’s public holidays.

According to Børsen, the government and unions are prepared to reduce Denmark’s 12 public holidays to 10 by getting rid of Great Prayer Day, which only Denmark celebrates, and either Maundy Thursday or Whit Monday.

FOA Chairman Dennis Christensen, however, says no such union-government agreement exists. FOA is the union for public employees.

“There is no agreement that binds FOA into agreeing that public holidays should be abolished – something we are also against,” Kristensen says.

“I am against removing one holiday. Removing two is twice as bad,” he says.

The idea of removing some public holidays has been mooted on several occasions as a way of getting people to work more, and thus increase tax revenues. Kristensen says, however, that in recent years the government has axed public jobs and put a lot of others on reduced working hours and suggests it is ‘absurd’ to then ask those remaining to work more.

Many FOA members already work on holidays due to their positions in hospitals, homes for the aged and other 24-7 institutions.

Monday’s report has also brought forth reactions from Denmark’s bishops.

“A strange back-to-front discussion. We discuss abandoning hol(y)idays solely from an economic perspective and how we can save on it – instead of discussing what it means for us in other ways to have a hol(y)iday,” says Bishop Karsten Nissen of Viborg.

Nissen says that Denmark’s Constitution provides that Denmark is an Evangelical-Lutheran country and that the national Church is the only institution that is mentioned directly in the Constitution.

“I cannot see that this is a question for the labour market actors. I expect the question to be discussed with the minister for ecclesiastical affairs, who will then have to discuss it with the bishops,” he says.

While it appears that Nissen would be prepared at least to discuss abolishing Great Prayer Day, the issue of Maundy Thursday or Whit Monday is another issue altogether.

“We have to discuss why it is we have such a holiday – in other words an ecclesiastical feast day and the significance for the Church and people if you just get rid of it,” Nissen says.

Maundy Thursday in Holy Week is traditionally the religious observance day of the ‘washing of the feet’, commemorating the concept of humility, in Jesus Christ washing the feet of his disciples and figuratively telling them to repeat his actions and to be humble.

Whit or Pentecost Monday is part of the religious Pentecostal tradition following Whit Sunday, when Christians celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. It is also traditionally seen as the birth day of the Christian church.

Great Prayer Day – on the fourth Friday after Easter – is a consolidation holiday introduced in 1686 to bring together several minor Roman Catholic holidays that survived the reformation in Denmark.

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