COPENHAGEN - The Danish government's plan to abolish a public holiday to help fund the defense budget amid the war in Ukraine is putting Denmark's cherished welfare model at risk, the country's biggest trade union warned.
"It's a big threat to the Danish model", said Lizette Risgaard, the head of the FH union which has 1.3 million members in a country of 5.9 million inhabitants.
"Politicians should stay out of labour market issues. If they go through with this they'll be imposing their will and violate our agreements", she thundered in an interview with AFP on Wednesday.
The left-right government coalition in power since December, headed by Social Democratic Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, plans to scrap the religious holiday known as "Great Prayer Day", observed since the 17th century.
Initially introduced as a day of prayer, fasting and penitence, it falls on the fourth Friday after Easter and is now a common date for confirmations.
But the government wants to get rid of it and use the money to raise the defence budget to NATO's target of two percent of GDP by 2030, instead of 2033 as previously planned.
The government insists the accelerated calendar is necessary due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The move is expected to provide an extra three billion kroner ($440 million) to state coffers.
The cancelled holiday would entail an additional 7.4 hours of labour per worker, according to the government.
"I don't think it's a problem to have to work an extra day", Frederiksen said.
"We are facing enormous expenditures for defense and security, health care, psychiatry and the green transition," she said, presenting the new government's programme to parliament.
Danes will have to work an extra day, which their employers will have to pay them for.
But the public holiday and the wages paid to both those who work that day and those who are off, are already enshrined in the country's sacred collective wage agreements.
"It's a public holiday. And of course, they can say 'OK, we want to abolish it'", said Risgaard.
"But then they are going against what we have agreed upon in negotiations: to have the right to be with your family that day.
"In our collective wage agreements, there are 600 different ways of defining wages when someone works that day," she said.
A recent poll by the Epinion institute indicated an overwhelming majority of Danes opposed the move, which was not mentioned during last autumn's election campaign.
Only 17 percent supported the plan, while 75 percent were against it.
"They're interfering with the Danish model," Pernille Holm, a physiotherapist in her 30s, told AFP on Thursday.
"We have a way of doing things here in Denmark. We (negotiate) with our employer. And the unions negotiate our rights as workers."
"The government should not be able to do anything without including these two parts," she insisted.
An online petition started by FH has garnered almost half a million signatures.
Only the three governmental parties, which hold a majority in parliament, support the measure.
The Lutheran Church and organisations representing military employees have also protested vehemently.
"I am furious that they are using the military this way by saying that the money from the public holiday will go to increasing the budget," the head of the main union representing military personnel, Jesper Korsgaard Hansen, told tabloid B.T.
In parliament, the nine opposition parties ranging from the extreme left to the extreme right say they will refuse to take part in any new defence policy agreement until the government withdraws its plan.
For Danes, there is a sense of deja vu.
Ten years ago, a Social Democratic government tried to abolish the same public holiday but gave up amid a national outcry.
Soren, a 36-year-old dad pushing his child in a pram, told AFP he thinks the plan is "a bad idea" but believes the holiday will undoubtedly disappear at some point.
"They have had it on their mind for almost a decade," he said. "So it will happen sometime".
© Agence France-Presse