Do Spanish youth dream of a Danish employment miracle?


 Author: Concha Hierro

I am a curious journalist, lover of the poetry of Omar Khayyam and his praise of toasting. I have a special fondness for artistic and innovative initiatives. I also have a Master’s in European issues and I contribute in the European magazine Cafébabel. I currently work  freelance at the Spanish border with Portugal and organize PechaKucha Nights in Badajoz, an event where creative people presents their innovative works

Social protection for the labour force and freedom for employers to dismiss their workers seem to be an impossible combination, but this system of ‘flexisecurity’ exists in Denmark. This is what Spain needs, but at the moment Spanish employees feel they have little protection, especially since companies are claiming they need more flexibility when it comes to dismissing employees. It’s a hard time for any agreement to be made.

José Luís Castellanos is one of many young people in Spain who moved abroad around 20 years ago to seek a better future. His first destination was London, nowadays the most common place to migrate from Spain. He wanted to improve his English and earn some money. Now he works in Copenhagen as a purchasing manager for one of Denmark’s largest insurance companies. This is what he thinks about the Danish labour market.

spain denmark

Flag images: Flickr – Nicolas Raymond

“What I like the most about the Danish labour market is its dynamism; the “opposition phenomenon” doesn’t exist, meaning that people don’t search for a ‘job for life’ in the same way as the Spanish do. People often change jobs both in the public and private sector.

Attitudes to education

In contrast to Spain, where the government sets the minimum wage, in Denmark most are regulated through collective agreements between the unions and employers. Castellanos’s son, aged 15, found a job in a bakery for a “pretty decent salary”, according to his father. “In Denmark the crisis exists, but has not hit as hard as in Spain”, he adds.

Castellanos’s son case is very common in the Danish society. “The youth here know the labour market from an early age, they are educated in the sense of job responsibility and loyalty”, he says.

Photo of Denmark from Flickr – Chantal Kreth

Photo of Denmark from Flickr – Chantal Kreth

Mahela Madeleine Nilsson is other example of this. She is aged 19, lives in Copenhagen and also has a job. “Everyone my age has a paid job, mostly to earn money for renting or travelling”, she says. “I think that youth in my country don’t feel the same pressure from society to start their education as soon as possible. We have plenty of time to find out what we want, many of us take a year or two off between high school and university to travel and work and find out what we want with our lives”.

In her opinion, this probably has a lot to do with the fact that they are paid to go to school and that unemployment in Denmark is relatively low. “We don’t cherish education as much as countries where you have to pay a lot of money, but on the other hand we all have the opportunity to go to college if we want to, no matter how poor we are”.

The role of the unions

The role of the unions in Denmark is one of the biggest differences to the Spanish labour market. Most workers belong to one and in many cases unions own banks, insurance companies and properties.

However, the role they play in the labour market can be “a bit corrupt” according to Mahela Madeleine Nilsson. She thinks that some workplaces would refuse you a position if you aren’t a member of the same union as the rest of the workplace. But aside from this reported discrimination, she thinks the unions play an “important role in working out deals between the employers and the employees.”

The unemployment gulf

The gap between the unemployment rate in Denmark and Spain is one of the biggest in Europe, in particular the rate of youth unemployment. This is why the Spanish dream of the Nordic welfare system, although the Danes do pay for this protection with high taxes and their own private schemes.

However, according to Nilsson, there is still a large amount of people who could and should be working, but instead cheat the government into believing that they cannot work and receive money from the government. “The fact that they are not working and being supported through our taxes is a problem”, she says.

José Antonio López, 33, is a journalist at a local public TV channel in Extremadura, Spain, one of the poorest regions of the country and one of the five EU regions with the highest rates of youth unemployment (61%). He is worried about the tragic situation for many people.

Spanish region of Extremadura - Credit Flickr: Graeme Maclean

Spanish region of Extremadura – Credit Flickr: Graeme Maclean

The economic crisis is forcing Spanish companies to innovate, which seem to be the biggest challenge for the labour market. “Making things different, more efficient and revaluating even our most ground-breaking sectors is needed”, López says. In his opinion this could stop the ‘brain drain’ because the national economy is dependent on these changes and if they can be successfully implemented people will be more likely to stay in the country.Meanwhile, in Denmark, according to Nilsson, it is not very hard for young people who have recently graduated high school, to find a job. But it is not always easy if you want it to be related to your study. “That can take a couple of weeks, maximum a month of looking for work, but not much more if you just need any job”, she points out. 


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