An institution introduced in Belgium by the Organization of the Economy Act of September 20, 1948, with the aim of fostering employer/employee co-operation.

At the time of the 1987 elections for works councils and workplace health and safety committees (these four-yearly elections are referred to as "social elections "), 2,911 works councils were formed out of the expected number of 2,952, i.e. over 95 per cent.

Works councils are established in enterprises (defined as "technical work/production units") employing 100 employees or more; this is restricted to the private sector, but covers both profit-making and non-profit-making enterprises.

The works council is not a joint body in the strict sense. Both parties (employer and employees) are represented, but not necessarily in equal numbers. Only the number of employees' representatives is expressly specified. All that is stipulated regarding the number of employer's representatives is that it may not exceed the number of employees' representatives, so it may be smaller. The employer's representatives must be appointed from among the enterprise's senior executives. Their term of office is four years, provided they do not lose their (stated) senior executive post.

Elections are organized to form the works council, but only as regards the employees' representatives: employers are free to choose their own representatives themselves. Elections for the employees' representatives are based on lists of candidates. In the case of blue-collar and white-collar workers (excluding "kaderleden/cadres", i.e. professional and managerial staff), lists of candidates may be submitted only by representative unions. In practice, this means that only the Belgian General Federation of Labour , the Federation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium and the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions are eligible to nominate candidates, which amounts to a monopoly by the traditional unions. The industrial and horizontal unions affiliated to these three major "umbrella" organizations can also submit lists. The employer must publicly display the lists put forward even if the number of candidates on each does not exceed the number of seats on the works council that may be allotted to that union. If there are sufficient numbers of them employed in the enterprise, separate lists are used for blue-collar workers and white-collar workers respectively. This distinction between the two categories is then maintained as regards the composition of the works council. If there is a sufficient number of young workers employed in the enterprise (defined here as employees under the age of 25), seats on the council are reserved for the young workers' representative(s). And when an enterprise employs at least fifteen employees classed as professional and managerial staff, a separate electoral body is formed for them. This important innovation was introduced by the Social Recovery Act of 1985.

Senior executives are excluded form the elections. They can neither stand as candidates nor take part in the voting.

The works council's responsibilities mainly fall under the heading of information and consultation. It has decision-making powers on only a few matters. See basic information , collective dismissal or redundancy , company auditor , company welfare services , demand for reinstatement , employee involvement , enterprise , financial information , group insurance , new technologies , professional and managerial staff , protected employee , reinstatement , senior executives , work rules .

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.