What is a Works Council (Betriebsrat)?
A Works Council is an elected workers representation in a company. In Germany, workers in companies of more than 5 permanent employees are entitled by law to form a works council.
A Works Council is not a union (but the Works Councillors could be affiliated with a union). A union usually organizes workers within a sector across companies and engages in collective action around the terms of employment. A Works Council, on the other hand, is specific to a company and represents the company’s workers in company-specific concerns. Such concerns include staff-related issues, for example hiring and terminations, and workplace safety questions. The Works Council is intended to act as a counterbalance to the company’s owners and management.
The Betriebsverfassungsgesetz (Works Constitutional Act, WCA) provides the legal framework for Works Councils in Germany. Among other things, it defines the responsibilities of a Works Council, which include Represent the needs and concerns of the company’s workers and propose related measures Supervise that legal provisions that benefit workers are being implemented properly (including, but not limited to, workplace safety and environmental protection provisions) Support the working conditions and integration of workers marginalized by health concerns, ethnic affiliation, age, gender or family obligations.
To fulfill these responsibilities, Work Councilors have certain legal rights towards the company, such as
- Bringing in subject matter experts for specific questions
- Being informed by the company’s leadership about what is happening in the company if relates to the Works Council’s responsibilities. That includes staffing plans, changes in individual staff situations and planned technical or organizational changes.
- Mandatory consultation of the Works Council by the management for certain company decisions. In some cases, such as staff decisions, the Works Council can veto the decision.
- The company is required to enable and pay for obligatory training for Works Councillors (e.g. legal training)
- Works Council members are protected from termination for the duration of their term and one additional year