(Term sometimes misleadingly translated as "enterprise committee".) Institution of employee representation, compulsory since 1945 in enterprises with more than 50 employees. Possessing legal personality, the works council in France is a collegiate body composed not only of employee members elected by the workforce but also of the head of the enterprise (who chairs the council and takes part in certain votes) and of representatives appointed by the trade unions (who act in a purely consultative capacity).
Its position in the enterprise is singular: it has charge of company welfare and cultural facilities ; the law invests it with only consultative powers in regard to employer initiatives concerning the organization and management of the enterprise; and other than in the case of profit-sharing agreements , it possesses no formal bargaining power. In practice, the dividing line between consultation, which is the prerogative of the works council, and collective bargaining, which is the prerogative of the representative trade unions, is a very fine one. Numerous agreements, formal or otherwise, are concluded between the head of an enterprise and the works council, and the courts accord these a certain legal force, at the least as unilateral undertakings on the part of the employer.
The institution is a complex one. It is a counterweight to managerial prerogatives, yet also enables their exercise to be rationalized. It is a complement to union power, yet is also virtually its competitor.
Please note: the European industrial relations glossaries were compiled between 1991 and 2003 and are not updated. For current material see the European industrial relations dictionary.