The Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz; BetrVG) provides for cooperation based on trust between the works council and the employer as one of its cornerstones. A trust-based cooperation begins with the works council elections. The works council election is not the employer’s concern, but a task of the works council. The employer is only obliged to support the elections. Among other things, the employer must transmit personnel lists, provide material resources and premises for the election process and enable the election committee to function properly. Employers should not underestimate the importance of having a constructive and competent works council in their company that acts in the interests of the workforce and the company as a whole.
Unnecessary conflict with regard to the (future) works council must be avoided. Conflict arises, for example, as a result of taking sides in the course of the works council election. It often leads not only to the opposite voting behaviour of the workforce, but also puts a strain on the relationship of trust with the (future) works council from the outset. Employers are well-advised to take the works council seriously, understand its interests and try to put themselves in its position. This mindfulness should apply to the works council as a whole as well as to its individual members. It is recommended that employers encourage qualified and committed employees who are accepted by the staff to be nominated as works council members.
Both the employees and the employer benefit if the works council keeps an eye on the well being of the company and the employees, and promotes and critically but constructively supports and accompanies important change processes. What is detrimental however is when only low-qualified employees are available as works council members. In the worst-case scenario, they regard their function as preserving the status quo and thereby block further development of the company.
Employers should inform better qualified employees that a works council activity will not have negative repercussions for them. The main focus should be on ensuring the quality of the staff composition of works councils through a culture of openness and understanding. This pays off for employers, at the latest when necessary measures are implemented. A professionally and personally strong works council operates more competently and cooperatively in the interests of the workforce and the company. That being said, a suboptimal staff composition in the works council can, in extreme cases, become an existential threat to the company.
Recommendation for practice:
Even if it is not the employer’s responsibility to elect the works council, employers can still act constructively and in a supportive manner.
One possibility is to change the idea, which unfortunately still exists in many companies, that employees who are nominated as works council members can no longer pursue their career. Employers should also encourage more highly qualified employees to be elected to the works council. Moreover, working in certain departments, such as human resources, should not prevent an employee from standing for election. In such cases, however, the issue of confidentiality between employer and employee must be discussed and regulated openly and clearly.