Rules on staff representation

Information about Rights & Duties

Rules on staff representation

In Germany, staff representation involves a number of different bodies and types of organisation that ensure participation at an operational and managerial level. The primary task of staff representation bodies is to defend the interests of the employees of an undertaking or establishment.

Trade unions:

  • negotiate collective agreements with employers, which regulate income, working hours and leave for the undertaking or sector;
  • organise strikes in the event of labour disputes and pay their members strike pay;
  • help set up works councils;
  • support employees in company conflicts and represent them in disputes with their employer.

Trade union members have free legal protection in disputes relating to labour and social law. Membership of a trade union is voluntary and subject to contributions. The German Trade Union Federation Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund DGB] is the umbrella organisation for eight individual trade unions, with a total membership of around 6 million.

Works councils/staff committees (public sector)/staff representations (church institutions):

  • represent employees in dealings with employers relating to staff management and welfare;
  • ensure compliance with the applicable laws, regulations, occupational health and safety rules, collective agreements and company agreements that are in place to protect workers;
  • cooperate in workplace design, regulation of working hours, personnel planning and in-service training;
  • must be given a hearing whenever an employee is dismissed, otherwise the dismissal is invalid.

The rules on staff representation in companies are set out in the German Works Constitution Act [ Betriebsverfassungsgesetz ]. In public law companies staff representation is governed by the relevant staff committees act, and in church institutions by the relevant staff representation act or decree. A works council or staff committee must be formed of at least five employees over the age of 18, three of whom must have been a member of the company or department for at least 6 months. Foreign employees have the same rights to vote and stand as a candidate as their German colleagues.

Employee co-determination on supervisory boards

Corporate co-determination ensures that employees are involved in any important financial planning and decision-making undertaken by the company. It applies in companies with more than 500 employees that take the form of a corporation (i.e. joint stock company, limited company).

Employees are entitled to appoint representatives to the supervisory boards of these companies, where they are able to participate in the company's decision-making processes. Both employees of the company and trade union representatives may be appointed to supervisory boards.

The supervisory board is responsible for monitoring the management of a company, and may require that its prior approval be obtained for certain operations.

There are various laws that govern the participation of employee representatives and their trade unions on the supervisory boards of companies and corporations (Co-Determination Act for the Coal and Steel Industry, Co-Determination Supplementing Act, Co-Determination Act, One-Third Participation Act). Three criteria in particular determine which law applies to a particular company: the legal form of the company, the number of employees and the branch of industry. Depending on the legal basis that applies, the means of co-determination with respect to the supervisory board can vary greatly.

Office for the Equal Treatment of EU Workers

In 2014, the EU adopted the Directive on measures facilitating the exercise of rights conferred on workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers (Directive 2014/54/EU). This legislation makes it mandatory for all Member States to establish national advice centres to promote equal treatment. In Germany, the Office for the Equal Treatment of EU Workers [EU-Gleichbehandlungsstelle] was set up in 2016. Here, employees from other EU countries and their families can get independent legal and/or other support in the form of advice and referrals. The Office promotes, for example, networking with trade unions and employer associations as well as with state and non-state institutions.

Further information

European Commission EURES portal

Information on living and working conditions in all EU Member States, including on staff representation .

Information of the Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs on corporate co-determination (in German).

Information of the German Trade Union Confederation [DGB] for workers posted to Germany via the Faire Mobilität (Fair Mobility) portal

Information portal of the O ffice for the Equal Treatment of EU Workers [EUGS]

  • Information on working and living in multiple languages
  • Guidance on matters relating to the freedom of movement of workers

Advice centre search tool for quickly and easily finding contact details for your local centre.

Responsible for the content
Federal Employment Agency
Zentrale Auslands- und Fachvermittlung (ZAV) (International Placement Service)

Last update or date of publication