Förderprogramm "Integration durch Qualifizierung IQ"

FAQ – Works council

What is a works council?

A works council consists of employees who are elected by all the employees. As a works council, they then represent the interests of all employees vis-à-vis the employer. According to the law, a works council can be established in all companies with more than 5 employees. In order to establish a works council, the employees themselves must suggest this and motivate other employees to vote or stand for office.

In the public sector, the elected employees are known as the staff council. A staff council is elected in all departments with 5 or more employees. The more employees there are, the more people are on the staff council. Similar rules apply to a staff council as to a works council. The staff council represents the interests of employees in the public sector.

The rights of staff councils are governed by the Staff Representation Act (Personalvertretungsgesetz) and the Federal Staff Representation Act (Bundespersonalvertretungsgesetz).

In a company with a works/staff council, employees have more rights and can have a greater say in decision-making.

What does a works council do?

The Works Constitution Act regulates the tasks, rights and duties of a works council. For example, the works council and the employer must work together trustfully. Documents from the employer must also be made available to the works council and information must be exchanged. In the event of a dismissal, for example, the employer must consult the works council beforehand. The employer must inform the works council about the person who is to be dismissed and the reasons for the dismissal.

The works council has a right of co-determination on some issues. This means that the employer is not allowed to make decisions without the works council. This applies, for example, to the question of when the daily working time begins and ends. 

The works council also pays attention to the following points:

  • that all employees are categorised in the correct wage group,
  • that breaks and working hours are adhered to and
  • that health and safety regulations are observed (for example, that employees wear helmets or safety shoes at work).

The works council holds consultation sessions for employees and organises meetings of the workforce.

It can also negotiate company agreements between the works council and the management. It is also supposed to help foreign employees integrate into the company. The works council is not allowed to disclose confidential information.

What is a Betriebsvereinbarung (company agreement)?

This is a company agreement between the works council and the management or employer.

There are no such company agreements if there is no works council. Negotiating these agreements is one of the main tasks of a works council.

Company agreements are binding for the employer and the employees and apply in the same way as laws or collective agreements.

However, a company agreement may not violate collective agreements, laws, regulations or EU law.

A company agreement covers aspects such as working time models, occupational health and safety or the use of the internet, e-mails and social media in the company.

In the public sector, the agreements between the department and the staff council are called "work agreements".

What is a trade union? How can a trade union support the works council?

Employees and other people (such as pensioners, students, job seekers, etc.) are organised in trade unions.

Everyone who joins a trade union is a member. Trade unions are not only responsible for one company, but for an entire industry or several industries.

Trade unions are collective bargaining parties and negotiate collective agreements with individual employers or the employers' association of an industry.

Trade unions often actively support the establishment of a works council. The trade unions offer seminars for elected works councils on all important topics relating to works council duties. They also support the works councils by providing information and advice. Works councils and staff councils are often trade union members. This is not mandatory, however.

How can you set up a works council/staff council?

If your company has more than 5 employees, you can set up a works council. Your trade union can help you with this, because there are a few things you need to bear in mind!

If more than 5 employees work in your department (public sector), you can set up a staff council. Staff representation law is enacted by the federal states. Each German state has its own Staff Representation Act (Personalvertretungsgesetz).

When setting up a staff council, you should seek advice and support from the relevant trade union beforehand.

When a works council or staff council is established, there is special protection against dismissal for a certain period of time. This means that it is more difficult for you to be dismissed while a works council is being set up. The special protection against dismissal also applies to elected members of the works council or staff council.