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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

Non-legal methods of union control of works council activities,   pp. 12-16 PDF (2.4 MB)

Page 12

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Fortunately, there are also other means at the disposal of the unions
for the purpose of maintaining control over the works council. These
include indispensable union services such as legal advice, publications
and training, union-sponsored meetings of works councils, union plant
organization, increased union influence on the shop agreement, and merging
of works council and union office.
Legal Advice and Aid
Most grievances are presented in the form of legal claims.    This
results from the fact that the essential provisions of a workers's
employment contract are fixed by law and by collective agreement (which,
under certain circumstances, displays all the characteristics of law)
as well as from the situation that the relationship between management
and works council, rather than being conducted in a spirit of give-and-
take, all too often is kept strictly to the legal minimum. In an atmosphere
of strict adherence to the letter of the law, worker demands are studied
not merely on the merits of the case, but always with reference to their
eventual effects as precedent, and their justification in law or contracts.
Most arguments turn consequently upon the interpretation of the law, or of
the collective contract by the courts, the commentaries and the law
professors. It is no coincidence that most personnel managers possess
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In processing these grievances, the works council is therefore
constantly in need of legal advice which is offered by the union. Each
local and regional union office maintains at least one legally-trained
secretary who also represents union members' claims before the lower
labor court where lawyers are barred. Works councils in larger enterprise
are hence in almost daily contact with the unions for purposes of securin
advice or perhaps legal representation for the aggrieved employees. At
least one union, the Mining Union, has issued a handsome loose-leaf
handbook containing the pertinent legal texts and collective agreements
for the works councillors.
It is probably this need for legal assistance which ties the works
council most closely to the union. Without the constant advice by the
union on the interpretation of contract and law, the council cannot offer
adequate service.  A non-union works council, which has no access to such
aid, may soon be replaced by the voters.
Moreover, the DGB and some of the larger member unions furnish their
field officers and works council members current information on all legal
developments and events in this field of labor. Such information may be
contained in monthly publications (such as "Die Quelle" of the
DGB) and
special bulletins.
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