Parliament’s ombudsman, stated on Wednesday that the Finance Ministry has the law on its side when the ministry refused Denmark’s Teacher Union access to a number of documents from the Working Group that had to prepare the working conditions negotiations with teachers.
But at the same time, the ombudsman Jørgen Steen Sørensen wonders strongly about the secrecy afforded the Working Group. This has aroused suspicion of a conscious ploy to avoid scrutiny.
“I need to underline that I cannot know what the exact background for these circumstances are. But an overview gives the impression that these circumstances were planned and committed to, precisely with the intention to avoid that the documents could be subject to public access,” said Jørgen Steen Sørensen in his statement.
The Working Group was disbanded in February 2012 by the Finance Ministry to prepare for the negotiations.
But according to the ombudsman, work stopped at the end of 2012 without the Working Group giving a report. And this arouses suspicion.
According to the ombudsman, the Finance Ministry reported that the Working Group’s work was not relevant at this time and the Working Group’s documents have nothing to do with preparing for the negotiations.
The latter is crucial for whether the documents can be exempted from full disclosure according to the rules about internal working documents.
“The ombudsman may give the Finance Ministry’s information for consideration but he expresses that how it appears from the outside may appear surprising,” he said in a statement.”
It is surprising that the working group’s papers apparently were not used in preparation for the negotiations because the the group was created only in order to prepare for the talks.
A secret report on teachers’ working time written by two ministries and the Kommunernes Landsforening (the nationwide association of borough councils), was “never used during the negotiations over new working conditions for teachers”, despite being the official and intended goal of the report.
That’s what the Finance Ministry wrote in answer to Parliament’s ombudsman as their main argument for not handing over the report to the teaching unions, which has led to a year long legal battle with the ministry to have access to the documents.
In addition to the Finance Ministry and KL, the Ministry for Children and Teacher were in the group. Civil servants worked shrouded in deep mystery.
It is largely the work of this group which has led to the complaint that the KL and the Finance Ministry have agreed in advance how the conflict will be ended and how the teachers’ terms and conditions will appear.
Denmark’s teachers’ union want to see the documents to find out how close a partnership the KL and Finance Ministry have been running.
The Finance Ministry has refused the request for access with the grounds that internal working documents are be exempted from public scrutiny, according to the Public Records Act Paragraph 7.
But, if these papers were sent from the Working Group to other authorities and administratons or have been used in other cases with the KL or the two ministries, then they lose their “internal” characteristic and should be generally presented.
Therefore, the ombudsman Jørgen Steen Sørensen asked about the characteristics of some 86 documents to determine if they can be considered internal. He stated earlier in the month in a letter to the Finance Ministry that if the documents have been used to prepare for the negotiations for a new working agreement, then they have been used in “other cases” and cannot be regarded as internal.
The Finance Ministry who acted as secretary for the working group wrote the following in response to the Ombudsman:
“But the Working Group’s documents have NOT been used in the treatment of other cases in the Finance Ministry or as previously stated neither in other cases in the Ministry for Children and Teaching nor in the KL. The Working Group’s documents were not used in preparation for the negotiations.”
Viewed from this explanation, the Working Group has not fulfilled its own goals. The Working Group’s job description, that gave the purpose of the group’s work was “…to prepare for working conditions negotiations in the public sector in 2013, and to support the shared goal of an increased teaching time share of working time in state primary and secondary schools.”
The Finance Ministry also wrote in its answer to the Ombudsman that the group was not finished with its report on teachers’ working time. The last meeting was held in August last year and there is an unfinished version of the report dated 19th November 2012, three weeks before the KL gave the demand to the Teachers’ Central Organisation to get rid of “rules that regulate the use of working time”.
The unfinished version was never made public but Denmark’s Teachers’ Union, using the Public Records Act, has obtained an excerpt of the document which describes the “factual circumstances”.
These are passages about rules for teaching in state schools, comments from old reports and other factual information that has been made public previously. But all estimates, interpretations and conclusions from the Working Group has not been given out.
However, in a footnote in the document, that the Working Group has used a press release from the KL called “Effective Use of Teachers’ Time” which came out in 2012.
In this report, it is claimed that teachers use 39.6 percent of their working time on teaching.
The KL has on separate occasions during the conflict referred to the exact number of calculated weekly lessons in the country as around 22 lessons, or 16 hours per teacher used for teaching. That teachers teacher for 16 hours a week has been a central message in KL’s public campaign about teachers’ working time. The number has been used in several full page adverts in newspapers.
Anders Bondo Christensen is the Teachers’ Central Organisation chief negotiator in the conflict about teachers’ working time. He finds it “very difficult” to understand the Finance Ministry’s explanation that the documents from the Working Group were not used at all to prepare for the negotiations about new working conditions for teachers.
“The group was set up to look at teachers’ working time ahead of negotiations about conditions. Why the heck weren’t they used in the report? There has been a lot of secrecy about the group’s work and it seems completely unrealistic to me that they wouldn’t have used the papers. It was why they were meeting. It was openly written in the mandate.”
Do you not believe the Finance Ministry has written the truth to the Ombudsman?
“When I say that it is unrealistic, it’s because I doubt that it is correct that they didn’t use the papers,” said Anders Bondo Christensen.
Denmark’s Teachers’ Union maintains its complaint to parliament’s Ombudsman, which has now asked the Finance Ministry about more detailed information. The Finance Ministry has stated to politiken.dk that the ministry will not comment on an ongoing complaint but politiken.dk learned that the negotiations about conditions were already started before the group finished the report. KL’s chief negotiator Michael Ziegler, has previously said to politiken.dk that he “assumed” that KL has used to the work from the committee but he did not personally take part in it, which was left to civil servants.
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