How to form a Works Council
Once you and some fellow colleagues have decided to form a Works Council, there are a couple of strategic considerations and formal steps that must be followed. The following is a brief overview to get an impression of the general precedure and explicitly without listing all the legal details. But before getting to the legal framework, we recommend the following strategic steps to plan your campaign:
According to organizers at IG Metall Berlin, a Works Council campaign involves thorough preparation and is more like a marathon than a sprint. They collected a number of insights into how they help workers that approach them in a sustainable manner here.
Besides their advice, we consider the following strategic steps important before making your plans public:
1. Gather necessary information and consider getting help from a union
The first important step is to learn about the legal framework that need to be followed for the election process. Due to the many formal requirements, working together with a union can be a huge benefit. The consultation by union secretaries is not strictly linked to union membership, so it is definitely worth reaching out as soon as the initiative to form a Works Council starts. Depending on your industry different unions might be relevant. At Tech Workers Coalition, we can connect you to local union secretaries and explore options for the specific situation in your company. We are also very happy to share prior experiences and provide a strictly confidential and safe environment to discuss and support your initiative.
2. Discuss your plans with co-workers that seem open to the idea in 1-on-1 meetings
To get an impression on how many co-workers support the campaign, but not alarm your employer before the workers assembly takes place, and the workers calling it are protected from retaliation (see below), we recommend reaching out to co-workers in individual talks, starting with the ones that seem open to the idea from prior experience. This might for example be co-workers that are outspoken on similar workplace issues that you care about, or that are politically active in other fields outside of the workplace.
3. Determine the eligibility to elect a works council in your company
The right to elect a Works Council depends on the number of employees of a company (see below). However, a company might be split into separate legal entities, for example regional offices. It is very important to get a clear picture on that structure and determine if a Works Council can be elected, and with how many seats, before continuing further steps.
4. Before calling for the election, ensure a well-prepared committee is running and there are enough candidates
When the workers assembly takes place (see below), it should be prepared thoroughly. One part of that is that there are candidates for the election committee and who share the desire to elect a Works Council. Ideally there is also already a list of co-workers who want to run for the Works Council. Because during a term, seats that become vacant due to for example people leaving the company, need to be re-filled from the list of candidates at election time, it is recommended to have roughly double the number of candidates than there are seats on the Works Council.
Overview of legal framework
Who is eligible to vote?
Employees, both full and part time, who are at least 18 years old, as well as contract workers who are permanently at the company for at least 3 months. Managers and executive staff are not eligible to vote. The head count of eligible voters is crucial to determine the number of representatives on the Works Council. As soon as there are 5 eligible employees in a company, a Works Council can be established.
Calling a workers assembly
The first step in forming a Works Council is to call a workers assembly to form the election committee. There are different options who can call the assembly:
Three workers who are eligible to vote.
A union that has members among the employees.
A general Works Council - if there is one. E.g. if voting a Works Council for a regional office, the Works Council at the national level can call the assembly.
Workers calling for the assembly are protected from being fired until the election is over.
Electing an election committee
The election committee is responsible for organizing the Works Council election. It consists in general of 3 workers who are eligible to vote. If necessary, there can be more members, but it must always be an odd number.
The committee is elected by the majority of workers at the assembly. From that point onwards the members of the committee are protected from being fired unitl 6 months after the Works Council got elected.
Electing the Works Council
The election committee creates a list of all workers who are eligible to vote and informs them about the upcoming election. This information must include important deadlines for handing in submissions, the number of representatives to be elected, as well as the actual date and location of the election. Workers who are eligible to vote and have been at the company for at least 6 months can run for the Works Council. After the election, the committee counts votes and presents the results. Following this the newly elected Works Council holds its constituting first meeting. Members of the Works Council are protected from being fired until one year after their term ends. Therefore, the maximum protection for those workers initiating the Works Council can be ensured if they call the workers assembly, run for the election committee and become representatives in the Works Council themselves.
Time, resources and training
The process of preparing and running the election is very formalized and must be strictly followed in order to prevent legal issues after the election. Therefore members of the election committee can attend trainings or get consulting that is offered for example by unions. The cost and time effort of the Works Council election process must be covered by the employer. This includes appropriate training for the election committee.
Similarly, the time and resources that Works Council members spend on behalf of the Works Council must be covered by the employer. Therefore, regular Works Council meetings as well as preparation time and other activities such as consulting fellow workers all happen during normal work hours. For training, unions offer seminars for newly elected Works Council members covering legal and organizational basics.
Forming a Works Council can be done any time in a company that does not have one yet. After that, there are fixed terms for the election every four years (2018, 2022, 2026, etc.). Therefore the first term of the newly elected Works Council could be shortened.