Global works council
A global works council is a group established in a transnational company on a voluntary basis, either through a transnational agreement or as a result of a decision by the employer to create an international social dialogue body for issues related to the company.
Although European works councils (EWC) are well established in the European social relations landscape thanks to the 1994 directive (later revised by Directive 2009/38/EC of 6 May 2009), there are still very few global works councils. Indeed, no legal standard governs the creation of such a body at either international or European level. Over the last decade, however, a significant number of European companies have sought to create an international social dialogue that sometimes involves the creation of a worldwide body of employee representation. This practice also meets the demands of trade unions and, in fact, several global union federations, such as UNI Global Union and IndustriALL Global Union, have developed a union strategy aimed at building global union networks within transnational companies in order to support the negotiation of an international framework agreement . This would enable the establishment of a regular social dialogue in a follow-up committee of the international framework agreement or in a more elaborate global body. The follow-up committee of a transnational agreement can sometimes be the precursor to a global works council; however, since there is no legal framework, there is a great variety of forms of representation.
The first approach to establishing a global works council may be to set up a separate global works council directly related to the EWC, as German car manufacturer Volkswagen did in 1998. One of the first global works councils, it resulted from an agreement between management and the EWC and was composed of the members of the EWC and employee representatives from Volkswagen sites in South Africa, America and Asia.
A similar route was taken by French telecommunications group Orange which, in June 2010, signed an agreement on the establishment of a global works council separate from the EWC. The council covers every country in which Orange has more than 400 employees. Another example is the case of the Belgian chemical group Solvay. At Solvay, the management informally set up the ‘Solvay Global Forum’, which consists of four members of the EWC Bureau and four trade unionists from Brazil, China, Korea and the United States. This body was formalised in an agreement signed on 7 June 2017 between the management and the body’s secretary. Similarly, in October 2018, the Airbus group renegotiated its agreement on its employee representation bodies at the European level, while also creating a global body – the Airbus Global Forum – which initiated the structuring of its international social dialogue.
The second approach to establishing a global works council is to start with an existing supranational body representing employees – i.e. the EWC – that could be opened up to an international reach, or even turned into a global works council. With this approach, several groups have gradually introduced non-European members into an EWC: for example, by inviting non-EU representatives to EWC meetings. This is a recurring practice for French insurance group AXA’s EWC, which invites non-EU representatives to participate in plenary meetings. A next step would be to confer an observer status on non-EU employee representatives. For example, on agreement between the management and the select committee, the EWC of the German mass retail group Metro allows observers from countries that are not yet members of the EU, such as Turkey, to be invited to the plenary meeting.
The final approach is for an EWC to become a global works council by allowing the representatives of non-EU employees to become full members of the EWC. This is often a step-by-step strategy. In 2000, the French car manufacturer Renault’s EWC, for example, extended the observer status already granted to Turkey and Slovenia to employee representatives from three new countries (Brazil, Argentina and Romania). This extension continued in 2004 with the arrival of a Korean observer, while the Slovenian observer became a full member. The latest version of Renault’s agreement states that the body meets annually ‘in the formation of a global works council’ and thus brings together, for two or three days, all 40 representatives of the member countries. All members are titular, including the nine non-EU countries where the group employs at least 2,500 employees. Legally, it remains necessary for the body to retain the powers of the EWC, which would be diluted in a global works council. The ‘Renault group committee’ can therefore be convened in the form of either an EWC of 31 members, or an extraordinary session of the steering committee. Another example is US appliance manufacturer Whirlpool, which set up a ‘Whirlpool European employee committee’ to cover its 24,000 employees working in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This agreement provides for full participation of workers’ representatives, including those from Russia, South Africa and Turkey.