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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

Union and works council relations under legislation since 1945,   pp. 8-11 PDF (1.7 MB)

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over non-union workers, the Hesse law entitles the council to assist
the union in its work (Article 30 (2)).
In Wuerttemberg-Baden, union representatives have the enforceable
right, unter certain circumstances, to visit the plants (Article 1
(2)). Moreover, in the absence of a collective agreement, the shop
agreement must have union approval (Article 17 - 1). The Bremen
law (Article 33 - 2) may be read as requiring union consent to any
shop agreement. Under the Rhineland-Palatinate law (Article 56),
the unions and employers' associations have the right to sit in on
all negotiations between the works council and the respective employer.
Division of Functions
As was true in the 1920 law, the union has retained the exclusive
function to negotiate collective wage agreements. The works council
retains the policing function, but has also been entrusted with the
essential processing of grievances and, within limits, with the
negotiation and administration of the shop agreement. In addition,
all State laws grant the works council the right of so-called
codetermination in the personnel and social areas, and some State
laws also accord this right in the economic field. These are
precisely the features which deeply affect the day-to-day employee-
employer relationship which represent, in the United States, an
essential and highly-valued part of the union's service to its members.
Legislation and Union Control
Consequently, the American observer may question whether the
delineation of functions by law on the one hand, and all the new
legal safeguards for union control over the works council on the
other hand, suffice to keep the employee from placing more value on
the employer-financed and, in most cases, compulsory works councils
than on the trade unions. What is there to prevent the worker from
deserting the union, or from keeping himself aloof as long as a
legally-established works council must represent his interests? Add
to the institution works council the possibility which the German
Labor Law provides for the administrative extension of collective
bargaining benefits to non-union members, and the free rider has all
the rights and none of the duties of the unionist. A question may
also be raised as to whether the degree of union control provided by
law is adequate to prevent the works councils from obstructing union
policy and as to whether the works council may not ultimately destroy
the union, the only effective representation of labor.
Existing works council legislation per se is certainly not
enough to guarantee union influence, particularly as some of it

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