Mitbestimmung: to determine with, to co-determine, co-decide; to be involved in a decision making process; representatives of blue and white collar workers having a seat at top management levels.
German law guarantees that employees have a say in all issues affecting the workplace, including internal rules and regulations, work conditions, personnel policy and those decisions determining the future of the company.
Mitbestimmung has its roots in the 19th century, when workers associations were established to improve work conditions and to check the unlimited power of management. The associations evolved into labor unions, which by the end of the 19th century had the legal right to represent workers over and against management.
The creation of labor unions was supported politically not only for ethical reasons, to protect the interests of the worker. Both sides – labor and capital – wanted to establish mechanisms to balance out the interests of both in ways which would avoid stikes, protests and social unrest. This is the spirit behind Mitbestimmung.
Betriebsrat. Works council. Any company with five or more employees must by law allow the formation of a works council. These are elected democratically and represent the interests of all employees – both white collar (non-labor) and blue collar (labor). If management and the works council cannot agree on certain issue, the law requires that a neutral third party mediator be involved.
The interaction between management and works council can be either positive or negative. Well run companies have a very cooperative relationship, which contributes to company success. In other companies the relationship is contentious, especially in those struggling in the market. The works council can often block management attempts to downsize the workforce, close down plants or otherwise restructure in ways negative for the (white collar workforce) employees.
Gewerkschaften. Labor unions in Germany unite employees of one industrial sector. They mostly represent their members in wage negotiations which are obligatory for the whole sector (labor agreement). They have the right to strike, an instrument they use only when negotiations have broken down and after serious deliberation.