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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

Council-employee relations,   pp. 33-35 PDF (1.5 MB)

Page 33

- 33 -
The responsibility of the works council to the employees was
defined in the 1920 law only in the formal sense that certain duties
were incumbent upon the councils. Under the law, however, except for
the annual elections, the employees had no practicable check by which
they could regularly keep informed on council activities and express
their views on past performance and future plans. Control Council
Law No. 22 introduced an effective means by which the employees could
exercise a direct influence on works councils in the form of a compulsory
quarterly assembly of plant personnel at which the respective council
must report on its activities to his constituents. This requirement
has been reaffirmed in most German Land laws concerning works councils.
Works assemblies differ with respect to the importance of their
accomplishments, with the run-of-the-mill meeting being rather
disappointing from this point of view. Although the assemblies,
which are conducted during working hours with no loss of pay, are
well attended, hardly any discussion normally follows the formal
report by the works council chairman and the address delivered
by a union official except in those instances where Communist Party
members use the occasion for their particular purposes. In one case
observed, however, the skilful council chairman stimulated a very
lively and constructive discussion from the floor through his
imaginative handling of the meeting. In any event, the quarterly
assemblies appear to serve the purpose of keeping the works council
chairman aware of his responsibilities towards the employees.
Other convenient means of contact between the works council and
the employees are to be found in council notices and announcements,
'which are usually posted on bulletin boards, the opportunity to visit
the works council during its office hours, and by the visits which
many works councillors make throughout the particular plant. In
large enterprises, the problems of maintaining close contact with
the employees and of reducing the inevitable social distance between
the council and the rank-and-file are often present.
While the problem of contact is somewhat relieved by the union
shop stewards who are an important link between the council and the
employees, the question of social distance defies a simple solution.
In being protected by law against dismissal, works council members
tend to be set apart from the rest of the working force. This is
particularly true of those council members who are relieved of their
job and who perform the necessary office work incumbent in the
discharge of their council duties.

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