European Works Councils

Background

The latest internationalisation of labour markets has had huge impacts on employment & working conditions. Today workers are often employed by a company with its strategic decision-making centre in another EU country. Crucial strategic decisions are no longer taken by national management only, but in European or global headquarters. These circumstances often hamper worker representation and social dialogue at the international level. They call for a mechanism to ensure that workers’ rights to be informed and consulted are effectively respected.

What’s an EWC?

When a company is established in several EU countries, the EWC represents the workers of the company in meetings with central management. They bring together at least one representative from each EU country in which a multinational company has operations. During EWC meetings, these representatives deal with all questions that concern the company as a whole or at least 2 member states. 

Explanation of EWC
What's a European Works Council?
Legal basis

Directive 94/45/EC is the legal basis for EWCs. It applies to transnational undertakings and groups of undertakings employing more than 1000 employees in the European Economic Area (EEA), and at least 150 of them in 2 member states.

In 2009, a recast EWC directive was adopted (2009/38/EC). Although it contains some important changes as to the definitions of information, consultation and transnational issues, it is still far from being complete.

The European Commission’s evaluation of the Recast Directive identified multiple problems with the functioning of EWCs, but this hasn’t been translated into a willingness to improve legislation. Some of the weaknesses of the recast directive are:

  • Employers can easily stall or completely block the establishment of an EWC.
  • EWCs are often informed after final decisions have already been taken.
  • Confidentiality clauses are often misused by management to withhold information.
The ETUC position

EWCs continue to be confronted with a done deal, especially in the event of transnational company restructuring. Necessary advances are impossible without a substantial improvement of the EWC Directive. Digitalisation won’t wait and EWCs must have the means to shape it. After 10 years of practices and evidence gathering, it is time to act – to act now & at EU level.

The ETUC will advocate for a revision of the EWC Directive based on the 10 demands, which include the following elements:

  • enforcement of the rights through effective and dissuasive sanctions including a right to a temporary suspension of company decisions with a national trade union prerogative,
  • access to justice,
  • a right for trade union experts to participate in all EWC and to have access to all sites,
  • coordination between the different levels of information and consultation,
  • definition of “consultation”, “controlling undertakings” to avoid regime shopping and use of letterbox companies,
  • recognition of the role of EU-level trade union organisations in the subsidiary requirements,
  • inclusion of “Article 13” agreements in the scope of the directive,
  • definition of  ”transnational character of a matter”,
  • rules for negotiations with SNB,
  • prevention of the abuse of confidentiality rules.

Find here a visualization of our demands with research evidence of why the current legal framework needs to be changed. 

The ETUFs’ practical support

The European Trade Union Federations (ETUFs) and their member organisations provide practical support, advise and training to EWC members on a daily basis. Especially in times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, support and monitoring have been scaled up. In this context, please find below joint European Trade Union Federations’ recommendations to EWC/SE Coordinators and worker representatives in SNBs, EWCs and SEs for:

  • managing the impact of Brexit on multinational companies

(available in CZ, DE, EN, FR, IT, NL, SV)

  • anticipating and managing the impact in multinational companies related to COVID-19

(available in CZ, DE, EN, ES, FR, IT, NL, SV)

  • temporary arrangements for transnational meetings during the COVID-19 crisis

(available in CZ, DE, EN, ES, FR, IT, NL, SV).

More actions

Once a year the ETUC organises the annual EWC conference with EWC representatives from all over Europe – a unique opportunity to exchange with colleagues and European decision-makers. Find the streaming of the EWC conferences in 2019 & 2020.

The ETUC organises & coordinates specific events targeted towards the European institutions to push for a revision of the EWC directive. Such events aim at increasing the exchange with the European Commission, the European Parliament and national governments.

The ETUC – in close cooperation with the ETUI and the European Trade Union Federations – also offers a series of trainings to EWC members and workers’ representatives. These workshops deal with key issues and challenges for EWC members such as litigations, workers’ rights in restructuring processes…

EWC Conference, speakers and public
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