chapter  12
Union recognition in Germany
A dual system of industrial relations with two recognition problems
ByOtto Jacobi
Pages 17

The recognition of unions and workers’ representative bodies at plant or company level has never been a major problem in post-war Germany. This is because the high degree of institutionalization and juridification of the industrial relations system represents a barrier against the emergence of recognition problems for unions. The German system of industrial relations is marked by its dual nature. Free collective bargaining is one pillar. According to the Act on Collective Agreements, unions and employers have the exclusive right to bargain and to settle agreements on a broad spectrum of issues. In the cases of failure of negotiations and subsequent arbitration procedures, only the social partners have the right to conduct industrial disputes, i.e. strikes and defensive lockouts. The other pillar is the Works Constitution Act (Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs 1998). Workforces have the right to establish works councils at plant, enterprise, company and group levels and to elect the members of these representational bodies. Works councils are legally independent of both the employers and the unions, with the mission to “work together [with the employer] in a spirit of mutual trust and in co-operation with the trade unions and employers’ associations for the good of the employees and of the establishment” (§ 2, para. 1 Works Constitution Act 1952, amended in 1972 and 2001). Their most important right is to act as legal entities and conclude works agreements with the employer on all items that are either not covered by collective agreements or were delegated to them by the social partners. While works councils do not have the right to call a strike and to settle collective agreements, they have comprehensive participation rights and monitor whether employers abide by legal and collectively stipulated standards.