© 2004
Management and EWC - a contradictory relationship?

FotoFoto Between 2006 and 2007, the Institute for Society and Social Policy at Linz University in cooperation with the Austrian Trade Union Confederation (ÖGB) conducted a research project on European works councils in Austria. EWC members, trade union officers and management representatives were interviewed in twelve groups, to investigate success factors, barriers and challenges of EWC work.

Similar to the German study by Prof. Kotthoff the Linz researchers differ several models. They have investigated the role of central management and classified into types.

Type 1: The "culture of cooperation"

In type 1 the management feels the involvement of the EWC as important to increase the identification with the company and to create a positive corporate image, both internally and externally. There is often good experience with the course of cooperation in the home country of the group, which fosters the emergence of a trustful cooperation at European level.

Central management operates a transparent and fair information policy to the European works council and places great emphasis on consultation and discussion. The relations are not entirely free of conflicts of interest, but compromises are within reach because of established cooperative relationships. Some issues are not decided against the delegates in the EWC. This does not apply to the business strategy, which remains the sole competence of central management, but for labour policy issues (e. g. for an overall group bonus system or social aspects of corporate integration).

In order to use its influence here, the EWC must coordinate its positions internally well and agree on a common policy style towards central management. Only a small, manageable number of groups is characterized by a cooperative and consensual culture of type 1.

Type 2: The EWC as a presentation forum for the group policy

In type 2 no well-established cooperation could develop between management and EWC for a long time, relations have remained contrary. Central management informs the EWC selective and slightly transparent. The EWC meetings are clearly dominated by presentations of management: abstract charts and highly aggregated business data represent the performance of the company. These sometimes very elaborate presentations are part of the professional routine of top managers, serve to image advertising and are elements of the "marketing strategy of the group".

Provided that restructurings are justified and explained, this should increase the understanding of the delegates and so mitigate the risk of costly labour disputes. Comments of EWC members are welcome as long as they do not contradict management's position. Neither a critical dialogue has developed nor compromises in labour issues are possible.

The core problem of the EWC of type 2 is that the focus on shareholder value principle opens no room to the participation of employee representatives. Monetary and quantitative targets form the basis of corporate control and the management decides solely on the basis of owners interests about goals and strategies. European works councils of type 2 are often found in Anglo-Saxon companies, to a lesser extent also in some continental European companies.

Type 3: The marginal EWC in the authoritarian corporate culture

A strong distance and formal routines characterize the relationship between central management and EWC in the type 3. Most of these are groups based in southern European countries where there is hardly a participation of the employees. In authoritarian corporate cultures, the management behaves towards the EWC strictly legalistic. The oral presentations of top managers are limited to the minimum requirements of the EWC agreement, questions of employee representatives often remain unanswered. The central management argues with the lack of formal rights of the EWC, however the CEO reveals more information than the other managers, who are committed by him on a restrictive policy.

The legalism has two consequences: firstly there are no arbitrary actions of individual managers such as in type 2, which differ from the formal minimum standards of the EWC agreement. On the other hand, central management does not grant informal participation opportunities to the EWC as they are characteristic of type 1. If individual EWC members formulate positions to the group's strategy, these are indeed taken note of by the management, but not commented in detail. Policy units design e.g. codes of conduct which are put into effect by the employer without including the EWC before. Therefore the employees' side also is not involved in the monitoring.

The conditions for cooperation are extremely unfavourable for the type 3. In particular, for Italian or French top managers there is no doubt that they can control the group by virtue of their authority. Such leadership, however, provokes labour conflicts, which are seen by workers' representatives of Mediterranean countries as legitimate form of argument. Since the European works council seems not suitable as a platform for spontaneous and militant actions, the delegates from southern European countries in type 3 are more interested in action at the national level than at the EWC.


Am 26. Januar 2008 legte die Universität Linz den Abschlußbericht des Forschungsprojekts vor. Fallstudien beleuchten die EBR-Arbeit bei Austria Tabak, Semperit, MAN und weiteren Unternehmen. Die Studie definiert Eckpunkte auf dem Weg zu einem aktiven und erfolgreichen Europäischen Betriebsrat und benennt auch Probleme wie z. B. die mangelhafte personelle Kapazität der Gewerkschaften zur EBR-Betreuung.

Kurzbericht über die Vorstellung der Studie
Schlußfolgerungen und Perspektiven für eine aktive EBR-Arbeit

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