Making a Living Wage in Fast Food in Denmark

Jeremy Wood

According to Louise Marie Rantzau, a Danish McDonald’s employee, fast food workers in Denmark are making more than twice the salary of their American counterparts, with the base wage for a Danish fast food employee equivalent to US$20 per hour.

In contrast, the average wage for an American front-line fast-food worker is US$8.69, a study out of the University of California, Berkeley shows. United States fast-food workers rarely receive health benefits through their employer, leading more than half of their families to enroll in one or more public assistance programs just to get by. According to the report, public assistance provided to American fast-food workers costs taxpayers US$7 billion per year.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, unions cover 67 percent of Denmark’s workforce. While the country has no national minimum-wage law, the Danish employers group Horesta has conceded to a minimum US$20 wage for fast-food workers in an agreement with the nation’s largest union, who in return has promised that their members will not strike or boycott. On top of these wages, Danish fast-food workers receive five weeks’ paid vacation, and are paid overtime for working after 6 p.m. or on Sundays.

Another factor helping to boost Danish wages is the importance the country puts on income equality. According to the World Banks’ GINI Index, Denmark has the world’s lowest level of income inequality, a result of a powerful collective bargaining system and a generous social security net including universal healthcare.

Higher wages do seem to come at a cost for employers in Denmark, as fast-food restaurants there are less profitable than in the U.S., and trying to match Danish wages here would “dramatically increase costs in an industry that exists on very narrow margins,” according to Scott DeFife of the National Restaurant Association, a restaurant business association representing more than 380,000 restaurants in the U.S.