Why are they needed?
Works councils and unions are designed to protect the rights and interests of employees. Works councils are active in individual - larger - companies- and unions represent the interests of workers in specific industries. Here you can find out what the works council and union do and how you can become a member.
What do I need to know?
The works council represents the interests of employees vis-a-vis the employer. For example, the works council is responsible for making sure:
- laws and collective agreements are observed;
- nobody is discriminated against based on their gender, age, origin, etc. during hiring and promotion;
- and employees' views regarding improving the workplace are implemented.
The works councils operate on a voluntary basis, i.e. the members are not paid extra money for what they do. However, the tasks of the works council are done during regular working hours. So the employer must release the members of the works council for a certain number of hours.
A union is an association of workers. It represents the interests of employees vis-à-vis employers and politicians; and fights for better working conditions, higher wages or more paid holidays. As part of the struggle for better working conditions, unions often call for strikes. If your union calls for a strike in which you take part, your employer cannot penalise you for it, but does not have to pay you for the strike day. If you are a member of the union, you will receive so-called "strike money" ("Streikgeld") as compensation. As a member, the union will also provide you with advice and support regarding labour law in case you face a problem with your employer, e.g. if you are dismissed without a valid reason.
Collective agreements are arrangements between employers or employers' organisations ("Arbeitgeberverbände") and unions. Collective agreements regulate the working conditions (i.e. working hours, wages, etc.) of the employees of a company or an industry such as the metal and electrical industry or the chemical industry. In principle, the working conditions arranged in a collective agreement are more beneficial for the workers compared to the arrangements in companies or sectors without a collective agreement.
Different industries have separate unions in Germany, and the German Trade Union Confederation ("Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund” or DGB) is currently the largest trade union in Germany. You can find an overview of German unions on wikipedia.de. To join a union, you must register there and pay membership fees.
If there is already a works council in your company, you can register as a candidate in the next election. To do so, you need to meet the following requirements:
- You must be over 18 years old
- You must not have a managerial position and
- You must have been with the company for at least six months.
If your company does not have a works council yet, you can establish one under the following conditions: There must be at least five employees with voting rights in the company, of whom three must also be eligible as candidates.
All employees over the age of 18 who do not hold managerial positions are entitled to vote. People with Mini-jobs, temporary workers ("Aushilfe"), part-time workers ("Teilzeitkräfte") and subcontracted workers ("Leiharbeiter") who have been with the company for at least three months are also entitled to vote. Any employee who is over the age of 18, does not hold a managerial job, and has been with the company for at least six months can register as a candidate and get elected. If the company has been newly founded and no one has been working there for longer than six months, all current employees who are over the age of 18 can run as candidates.
The works council is always elected for four years.
It depends on the size of the company. If the company has fewer than 20 employees, one council member is enough. If there are more than 21 employees, the works council must consist of at least three people. With more than 51 personnel, the minimum number of members is 5. And so on.
Those who initiate the process, the electoral board and the works council have special protection against dismissal. If you face any problems, you can contact your union.
If you work for a large corporation and there is already a central works council ("Gesamtbetriebsrat"), they can simply appoint an electoral board ("Wahlvorstand") to take care of the election process for a works council.
In the absence of a central works council ("Gesamtbetriebsrat"), three employees can call for a workers' assembly ("Betriebsversammlung") by sending an invitation to all employees or putting it up as a notice on office boards visible to all employees. The invitation must be sent to the personnel at least three days before the assembly day, and it must clearly inform the staff that an electoral board should be elected for a works council election at the meeting. The electoral board organises the works council election and dissolves afterwards.
The workers' assembly must take place during working hours. The employer and those in managerial positions are not allowed to participate. After choosing an informal moderator for the assembly, the electoral board is then elected. All employees present are entitled to vote and can be chosen as a member of the electoral board.
At least three people must be elected to the election board. In case there are more members, the number must be odd. The employees can also elect substitute members for the electoral board. One of these three people is then chosen as the chairperson of the election board.
When electing a works council, various intricate rules and regulations must be observed, regarding which the electoral board must inform themselves in advance. The work council member(s) must be provided with enough time and financial resources, e.g. for buying books or attending seminars on the issue.
If you have any questions about legal matters, you can also contact the trade union responsible for your branch.
Works council promotes the rights and interests of employees and is provided support and advice by the relevant union.