The works constitution is an important building block of the labour market and labour law system in the Federal Republic of Germany. The participation of the works council in decisions of the employer which affect the orderly conduct of the employees in the company is generally accepted and recognised in Germany. Works councils can be formed in workplaces with at least five employees entitled to vote, of whom at least three are eligible. The elected works council has information, consultation and co-determination rights.
The works constitution has proven itself time and again in practice, especially in dealing with various crises, and is a defining element of corporate and company culture. A modernisation of the law should further strengthen the trusting cooperation between the company partners.
The duration of co-determination procedures can unnecessarily delay the necessary implementation of planned projects, particularly against the background of the digitalisation of the world of work. Therefore, a general acceleration provision is needed that allows employers to make provisional decisions. Workplace co-determination must be fast, flexible and tailored to fit. Flexible regulations promote quick decisions in the interests of the company and the workforce. This applies in particular to reconciliation of interests and social compensation plans.
Works Constitution must become more adaptable
The legally prescribed works council structures often do not fit the company structure. It therefore makes sense to allow to a greater extent for operational deviations from the structures laid down by law. The digitalisation of the world of work requires such deviation possibilities because the operational structures of the outdated analogue world of work - e.g. within the framework of matrix structures - so often no longer exist.
The aim of any amendment to the Works Constitution Act must be to speed up procedures, make co-determination structures adaptable and strengthen cooperation between employers and works councils based on trust. Instead, works constitutions require new scope for action, especially for employers and works councils, in order to keep company structures adaptable and to react quickly to customer demands and economic developments. One contribution to this can be the introduction of general time limits for co-determination procedures.
Using the opportunities of digitalization for works council work
A first step towards a thorough modernisation of co-determination at the workplace should in any case be the perpetuation of the regulations on virtual works councils that apply until 31 December 2020. Against the background of the ongoing pandemic, this is the order of the day. Consideration should even be given to making this mandatory. In addition, it is necessary to allow electronic works council elections. The latter in particular can save costs and increase voter turnout.
Despite the sometimes inflexible and highly bureaucratic provisions of the Works Constitution Act, the cooperation between works councils and employers, as required by law, is for the most part not only professional, it is also for the good of the company and its employees.