Volkswagen sets up a world group council

In May 1998, the Volkswagen group board and its European Works Council agreed the foundation of a "world group council", which will include employee representatives from Volkswagen subsidiaries all over the world.

On 13 May 1998, the group board of the German-owned automobile corporation Volkswagen (VW) and the Volkswagen European Works Council announced the foundation of a "VW group world council" (VW-Weltbetriebsrat). Volkswagen is thus one of the first important multinational companies officially to create and recognise a global joint employee representative structure for its 280,000 employees worldwide, working in around 35 production sites on four continents.

Volkswagen enjoys a long tradition of international cooperation between works councillors, employee representatives and trade unions at it various plants. The idea of building a world works council goes back to the late 1960s when the first global meeting of Volkswagen employee representatives was organised. During the 1970s and 1980s, there were various international activities within the Volkswagen corporation, in particular through the well-established German group works council which tried to give political support to the employee representatives in VW subsidiaries abroad. In 1990, the VW works councillors and trade unions from Germany, Belgium and Spain founded a European Works Council (EWC) which was officially recognised by VW management in 1992. Subsequently, the EWC has been extended to include employee representatives from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

The members of the VW EWC, however, have always regarded the creation of a European body as a first step towards establishing a worldwide employee representation. With this in mind, Volkswagen started to organise VW "world group employee conferences" (VW-Weltarbeitnehmerkonferenzen) on an annual basis in the mid-1990s. Therefore, the foundation of the new VW world council, which was announced at the 1998 VW world employee conference, held in Mlada Boleslav in the Czech Republic, can be interpreted as an institutionalisation of an already established practice.

According to the joint statement by the VW group board and the VW EWC, the new world council is to be composed of the members of the EWC and employee representatives from VW sites in South Africa, America and Asia. Once a year, there is to be joint meeting between the group board, national VW human resource managers and the world council to discuss the latest and most important business topics and developments. Other details, such as the concrete composition of the world council and its mode of operation, will be determined in the next few months. The first official meeting of the world council will be in 1999.

The VW group top management and employee representatives see the foundation of the group world council as an opportunity to enforce a global company culture which is based on constructive cooperation. Furthermore, both parties declared, that "the globalisation opportunity should be taken jointly for the success of business and employment, as well as for competitiveness, and to avoid possible risks." In addition, the employee representatives emphasise the fact that about 80% of all VW employees worldwide are members of a trade union, which they see as also providing an important contribution to cooperative ways of conflict-solving. From the point of view of the employees, the establishment and recognition of a global employee representative structure is also an important sign of a global company taking on its social responsibility.

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