EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Employee representation

Employee representation may be defined as the right of employees to seek a union or individual to represent them for the purpose of negotiating with management on such issues as wages, hours, benefits and working conditions. In the workplace, workers may be represented by trade union or other representatives:

  • on disciplinary and grievance matters;
  • on works councils or other consultative bodies;
  • for the collective bargaining of terms and conditions;
  • for making workforce agreements;
  • on joint working groups.

Employee representation is rooted in the Member States’ labour laws on trade unions and the representation of workers at workplace and enterprise levels. It may encompass a range of issues concerning, for example, terms and conditions of employment, working practices, conduct at work, health and safety, and many others. It is most closely associated with trade unions, both at the macro-level of consultation/dialogue, which influences major issues of social and economic policy, and in collective bargaining, which determines pay and other terms and conditions of employment. It is also found in various forms of participation by workers, including ‘works councils’ and ‘enterprise committees’.

Collective employee representation was first made mandatory under certain conditions, but this requirement has broadened and deepened over time to arguably become an important principle of the European social model. Employee representation was first declared mandatory under two Directives in the decision of the European Court of Justice in Commission of the European Communities v. United Kingdom Cases C-382/92 and C-383/92, [1994] (interpreting Council Directive 75/129 of 17 February 1975, on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to collective dismissals, and Council Directive 77/187 of 14 February 1977, on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the safeguarding of employees’ rights in the event of transfers of undertakings, businesses or parts of businesses).

Directives concerning employee information and consultation have further developed the principle of mandatory employee representation. First, in Community-scale undertakings and Community-scale groups of undertakings, Directive 94/45/EC of 22 September 1994 requires the establishment of a European Works Councils, or a procedure for the purposes of informing employees and consulting with them, where requested by employees or their representatives. Second, through Council Directive No. 2002/14, establishing a framework for informing employees and consulting with them in the European Community, is required.

Originally, the issue of labour in the enterprise was envisaged in terms of the free movement of workers as a factor of production, together with a principle of improvement of living and working conditions, to be achieved through the benefits of the common market. Arguably, employee representation, in all its diversity, at both EU and Member State levels, in the form of macro-level national dialogue, collective bargaining at intersectoral and sectoral levels, and collective participation in decision-making at the workplace, has since emerged as a cornerstone of the European social model in terms of employment and industrial relations in the EU.

See also: collective industrial relations; collective organisation of the social partners; information and consultation; European company; European industry federations; etuc; European Works Councils; freedom of association; information and consultation; management and labour; representativeness; right to constitute and freedom to join trade unions; special negotiating body; trade unions.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
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