Rules on staff representation

Information about Rights & Duties

Rules on staff representation

Employee representation

In Germany, employee representation involves a number of different bodies and organisational formats that ensure participation at operational and corporate level. The primary task of staff representation bodies is to defend the interests of the employees of a company or establishment.

The role of trade unions:

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

Trade union members are entitled to 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 Confederation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) is the umbrella organisation for eight individual trade unions, with a total membership of around 6 million.

Tasks of a works council / staff committee / employee representation

Above all, co-determination and participation on a works council means having an influence on all issues that directly affect employees at their workplace. Works councils, staff committees (in the public sector) and employee representations (in ecclesiastical institutions) perform the following tasks:

  • representing employees in dealings with employers relating to personal, social and economic matters
  • ensuring compliance with the applicable laws, regulations, occupational health and safety rules, collective agreements and company agreements that are in place to protect employees
  • cooperating in workplace design, the regulation of working hours, personnel planning and further training
  • These bodies must also be heard whenever an employee is dismissed, otherwise the dismissal is invalid.

The rules on employee representation at the workplace are set out in the Works Constitution Act. For companies governed by public law, employee representation is governed by the corresponding Federal Employee Representation Act (Bundespersonalvertretungsgesetz), while for ecclesiastical institutions it is governed by the currently applicable Employee Representation Act (Mitarbeitervertretungsgesetz) or Employee Representation Regulation (Mitarbeitervertretungsordnung).

Electing a works council or a staff committee

A works council or staff committee must be formed of at least five employees over the age of 18, at least three of whom must have worked for the company or the department for at least 6 months. Foreign employees have the same rights to vote and stand as a candidate as their German colleagues.

Employee participation on supervisory boards

Employee participation (also referred to as co-determination) at management level ensures that employees are involved in any important financial planning and decision-making at the company. This rule applies to companies that have 500 or more employees and take the form of a share capital company (Kapitalgesellschaft), such as a stock corporation (Aktiengesellschaft) or a limited liability company (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, GmbH).

Employees have the right to elect representatives to the supervisory boards of these companies, where they are able to participate in the companys decision-making processes. Both company employees and trade union representatives may be elected 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 actions.

There are various laws that govern the extent of employee participation on the supervisory boards of companies and groups: Employees of companies with 500 or more employees have the right to elect one third of the members of the supervisory board of a share capital company (One-Third Participation Act [Drittelbeteiligungsgesetz]). Employees of companies with 2 000 or more employees have the right to elect half of the members of the supervisory board of a share capital company (Co-determination Act [Mitbestimmungsgesetz]).

Office for the Equal Treatment of EU Workers

In 2014, the EU adopted Directive 2014/54/EU on measures facilitating the exercise of rights conferred on workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers. This legislation required all Member States to establish national advice centres to promote equal treatment. In Germany, the Office for the Equal Treatment of EU Workers was established in 2016. The Office provides employees from other EU Member States and their family members with independent legal and/or other support in the form of advice and referrals. Among other things, the Office promotes networking with trade unions, employer associations and government and non-government institutions.

Further information

  • Further information on living and working conditions in all EU Member States, including employee representation, is available on the European Commissions EURES portal
  • Information provided by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs on corporate co-determination:BMAS - Mitbestimmung - Eine gute Sache. [Co-determination - a good thing]
  • Information provided by the German Trade Union Confederation for workers posted to Germany via the Faire Mobilität (Fair Mobility) portal
  • Information (in several foreign languages) on working and living, and guidance on issues relating to the free movement of workers, via the information portal of the Office for the Equal Treatment of EU Workers (EUGS)
  • Advice centre search tool for quickly and easily finding contact details for your local centre

Responsible for the content
Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs

Last update or date of publication