Provisional results of 2002 works council elections

The provisional results of Germany's 2002 works council elections - the first to be held since a major reform of the relevant legislation - indicate that the decline in the number of works councils has been turned around, and indicate greater stability and increasing numbers of works councillors. In comparison with the 1998 elections, the number of works councillors increased by 11%, the number of works councillors who are released from work full time nearly doubled, and the number of female works councillors increased by 5%.

Between 1 March and 31 May 2002, works council election s took place in German companies under the terms of the new Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz, BetrVG) which has been in force since July 2001 (DE0107234F). The BetrVG determines the legal framework for co-determination at the level of the establishment in the private sector, through works council s. Works councils are employee representative bodies with a range of co-determination, information and consultation rights. Works council elections are held every four years between 1 March and 31 May (DE9810180F). The reformed BetrVG aims to increase the number of works councils, improve the representation of women on works councils and enhance the operating conditions of works councils.

At the request of the Hans Böckler Foundation, the Office for Social Research (Büro für Sozialforschung), which has been observing the elections since the reform of the BetrVG, published an extended analysis of the 2002 elections in September 2002 (Trendreport Betriebsrätewahlen 2002). The results - summarised below - are based on a survey of some 10,000 companies within the organisational area of the Metalworker's Union (IG Metall), where works council elections were held until the end of July 2002. The results of works councils elections were examined in the steel, metal, automobile and electrical industries as well as in the wood and textile industries and some 30 craft sectors. This corresponds to nearly 30% of all elected works councils in Germany in 1998.

Furthermore, the Mining, Chemicals and Energy Workers' Union (Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie, IG BCE) has published a preliminary evaluation based on some 2,900 companies where works councils were elected up to mid-June 2002, which represents 77% of the companies which elected employee representatives in IG BCE's organisational area.

Key findings

The preliminary results of Germany's 2002 works council elections show a turn-around in the trend for works councils to decline and indicate improved stabilisation and representation by works councillors. This indicates the positive effects so far of the reformed BetrVG, which seems to have contributed to a substantial improvement in works councils' operating conditions and to the aim of reducing the so-called 'blank spots' (weiße Flecken) - ie electing works councils in companies were they did not exist before.

Increased representation by works councillors

The 2002 elections resulted in an increase in the number of works councillors by 11% - or 5,500 employee representatives - compared with the elections in 1998. This represents a total of 40,000 works councils, and is indeed a turn-around, because between 1994 and 1998 the number of works councillors fell by around 10% from 220,000 to 200,000. In IG BCE's organisational area, the number of works councillors increased by 5% against the 1998 figure.

This increase in the number of works councillors is connected with the reformed BetrVG, which reduced the ratio between the number of works council members and the size of the establishment (for example, an establishment with 300 employees now has nine works councillors compared with seven under the former law) and thus improves the prospects for more professional interest representation. In addition, while in 1998 each works council member represented on average the interests of about 52 employees, this ratio has now been improved to one councillor for 47 employees.

Moreover, of the 5,500 additionally elected works councillors, some 40% are trade union members. However, the total proportion of works councillors who are members of a trade union has decreased by 1.6% to 80%. According to Wolfram Wasserman, author of the Office for Social Research 'Trendreport', past experience has shown that this share will increase, because during their term of office works councillors often come to realise that the complicated task of representing employees' interests requires support from trade unions.

The number of employees who were entitled to vote in 2002 increased slightly by 2% compared with 1998, and this also contributed to the increasing representation by works councillors. This seems to be the result of increasing the number of employees who are entitled to vote. The new BetrVG gives all temporary agency workers who have worked more than three months in the same establishment the right to vote in works council elections.

Furthermore, the proportion of works councillors released from work to perform their duties has nearly doubled from 5.4% in 1998 to 9.3% in 2002, while the proportion of works councillors who are released from work full-time has increased by 35% in comparison with 1998. One in 10 works councillors make use of the new statutory possibility for part-time release. This suggests a strengthening of works council structures, which enables works councils to improve the care of employees and the representation of their interests.

Increased number of women elected

A further aim of the reformed BetrVG was to improve the number of women in works councils by introducing a so-called 'gender equality quota' (Geschlechterquote) which provides for women to fill works council posts in proportion to their representation in the workforce. Consequently, 23% of works council members elected in 2002 were female, an increase of 5% from 1998. In 68% of companies, the equality quota was introduced, though the size of the company played a significant role. Thus, the larger the establishment , the more likely it was that the quota was achieved. In the IG BCE organisational area, women made up 25.2% of elected works councillors in 2002 (up from 22% in 1998) which in is higher than the share of female employees in these sectors, which stands at 24.5% (25% in 1998).

Streamlined election procedure

According to the Office for Social Research report, 49% of the companies with between 51 and 100 employees made use of the new streamlined election procedure introduced by the 2001 reform. This indicates a high degree of acceptance of the most disputed element of the reformed BetrVG by a significant proportion of companies, while employers' associations continue to criticise it. In order to make the establishment of a works council easier, particularly in small establishments where works councils are rare, the election procedure was simplified and made less bureaucratic (DE0204205F). As early as April 2002, when the first results were available, an increasing interest in creating works councils was noted, particularly in small companies. According to IG BCE, works councils were elected for the first time in some 400 establishments in its area in 2002, and nearly half of them were elected under the streamlined election procedure.

Characteristics of works councils elected for the first time

The Office for Social Research report is designed to provide a comparison of data for establishments which took part in the works council elections in both 1998 and 2002 and is thus able to indicate trends and structural changes in order to demonstrate important effects of the reformed BetrVG. In addition, the report provides a profile of the establishments where works councillors were elected for the first time in 2002.

In these establishments, the average number of employees was 100 and they had a higher share of white-collar workers and of female employees than establishments were works councils already existed. Furthermore, the 15.4% of the chairs of the works councils in these establishments are women, a higher proportion than in establishments with previously existing works councils (12.6%). Moreover, the turn-out in the vote in these establishments, at 75%, was higher than in all establishments (72%), indicating the interest in employee representation in small-sized companies.

Commentary

Trade unions' evaluations of the final results of 2002 works council elections by will be available at the beginning of 2003. Results so far indicate, overall, that the reformed BetrVG has had positive effects, and show a substantial improvement in works councils' operating conditions. In particular the contested streamlined election procedure was adopted by many companies despite persistent criticism from employers’ associations. Accordingly, the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA) - which publishes its own results of the works councils elections - has cast doubt on the provisional results. The federal government has described the results so far as a major success which demonstrates the success of the reform.

The trade unions' wide-ranging campaign around the 2002 works council elections (DE0204205F) seems to have made a significant contribution to supporting the elections and particularly to motivating employees to vote for works councils in companies where they had previously not existed. Several regional organisations of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) will continue to promote works council elections for a prolonged period. Moreover, the campaign's website will continue to be available for information, services and links on the issue of works council elections. (Verena Di Pasquale, Institute of Economic and Social Research, WSI)

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