14. June 2016

Understanding Co-determination in Germany

Co-determination, or Mitbestimmung, is an important concept in industrial relations in Germany. It refers to an institutionalized concept for the consultation and participation of employees in the decision-making of an establishment or enterprise. Today it is regulated by a number of detailed laws.

The goal of co-determination is to advance the interests of workers. However, it is limited when the core of an employer’s entrepreneurial freedom is affected. This is a right which cannot be interfered with.

Types of co-determination

Co-determination at the establishment level involves the participation of the works council (German: Betriebsrat) and of the executive committee (Sprecherausschuss). Its legal basis can be found in the Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz), the Act on European Works Councils (Europäisches Betriebsrätegesetz) and the German Executive Committees Act (Sprecherausschussgesetz).

Co-determination in the public sector is regulated by the employee representation legislation of the federal and state governments.

In addition, there is co-determination at the board level. This refers to the representation of employees in the supervisory board or the board of directors of large corporations. This article only looks at the rights of works councils in more detail.

Co-determination within the works constitution

As the elected body of employee representatives, the works council enjoys various participation rights. These range from simple rights of information and consultation to real co-determination rights and rights of approval or objection.

The most important participation rights are:

  • Participation in social matters (sec. 87 ff. of the Works Constitution Act), for example regarding the organization of the establishment and the labor conditions of employees, such as daily working hours including rest periods or a temporary reduction or extension of working hours.
  • Participation in personnel matters (sec. 92 ff. of the Works Constitution Act), for example information about current and future staff planning, requests that jobs are advertised internally, the running of vocational training sessions or participation in individual personnel decisions such as hiring, classification or transfers.
  • Participation in economic matters (sec. 106 ff. of the Works Constitution Act), for example participation in operational changes, in a reconciliation of interests and in a social compensation plan.

In addition to individual participation rights, the general principle of trustful collaboration between the employers and the works council applies.


Florian Popella

Arbeitsrecht, Wirtschaftsrecht

Florian Popella