Danish Brewers Fight for Right to Drink Beer on the Job

For over a century workers at Denmark‘s Carlsberg brewery have been allowed to drink free beer on the job throughout the workday. After the management ended that policy on April 1st, hundreds of workers went on strike.

“We’ve actually stopped working because Carlsberg’s management violated the bargaining agreement by making a policy change without our input,” Carlsberg union representative Dennis Onsvig told the Copenhagen Post. “There was no dialogue over the issue at all, and that’s just not good enough.”

Previously the workers were provided with free beer throughout the workday, available in coolers located around the workplace. The management has now limited beer-drinking to a daily half hour lunch break.

"Carlsberg has pulled something over the heads of the workers. They won’t have a dialogue with us," Michael Christiansen, a tall Carlsberg union leader with a goatee, told the BBC. "We have never had a problem with accidents or anything with alcohol involved."

Truck drivers from the company also joined the strike in sympathy, though the new policy doesn’t apply to them; Carlsberg drivers, whose trucks have alcohol ignition locks, are allowed to drink three beers a day outside of the lunch break. With such locks the truck will not start if the driver has a blood alcohol level of over .05 percent.

This is not the first time Danish brewery workers went on strike for the right to drink their product while working. In 2005, employees at Harboe Brewery walked off the job in protest of the bosses’ move, “slamming the brewery doors behind them.” In this case, the grievance went beyond the policy of limiting beer-drinking during work hours. According to the Copenhagen Post, Harboe Brewery workers “felt that the ban added insult to injury, as they had for some time been unable to conclude wage negotiations with their employers.”

Monks brewing beer at six different monasteries in Belgium are allowed to drink during lunch breaks, and workers at the Belgium based Anheuser Busch-InBev used to be able to drink beer on the job, but the practice has since ended.

On Monday, April 12, the Carlsberg workers decided to end the strike. "We have agreed with management that we will meet very soon to find a temporary solution while waiting for a legal settlement of the matter," Michael Christensen said in a union statement.

"We need to keep our beer," 32 year old Carlsberg employee Juseif Izaivi told the Wall St. Journal. "I need a beer when I take a cigarette break."

Benjamin Dangl is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events and is the co-author, with Chris O’Brien, of the forthcoming book Bottoms Up: A People’s Guide to Beer (PM Press.) Visit http://bendangl.net/ for more writing.