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Codetermination in Germany

Codetermination in Germany is a concept that involves the right of workers to participate in management of the companies they work for.[1] Known as Mitbestimmung, the modern law on codetermination is found principally in the Mitbestimmungsgesetz of 1976. The law allows workers to elect representatives (usually trade union representatives) for almost half of the supervisory board of directors. The legislation is separate from the main German company law Act for public companies, the Aktiengesetz. It applies to public and private companies, so long as there are over 2,000 employees. For companies with 500–2,000 employees, one third of the supervisory board must be elected.

There is also legislation in Germany, known as the Betriebsverfassungsgesetz,[2] whereby workers are entitled to form Works Councils at local shop floor level.

Goals of codeterminationEdit

Views differ on the goals of codetermination in general. Some social reformers maintain that workers are not merely factory parts, but citizens with equal rights. The Prussian state aimed for a conciliatory policy between capital and labour, and worker committees were one way to involve and bind workers into a system, and avoid conflict. In return unions conceded objectives on the establishment of a socialist state.

Codetermination aims principally to give workers a voice in the company decisions. This means matters on organisation of the business, the conditions of work and the management of personal and economic decisions affecting the future of the company and jobs. Workers therefore choose Works council representatives and members of the board to represent them.

Interests of workersEdit

On the assumption that the primary goal of employers is to maximise profits in the interests of shareholders, codetermination can reorient the company's goals in the interests of workers. A better balance may be struck so that the company interests are not so one sided. For unions, codetermination is part of democratising the economy. It is also a way for workers to better the terms and conditions of their contracts in an orderly and regulated way.

Interests of employersEdit

Much economic discussion mentions the thesis that employers also have an interest in codetermination. It can be an instrument for long term increase in productivity of the company. Some economists dispute this on the basis that the losses in efficiency in production outweigh any gains in productivity.[3]

Types of codeterminationEdit

Three forms of codetermination are distinguished,

Codetermination in job places

According to the Betriebsverfassungsgesetz (BetrVG, Industrial Relations Law) the worker has a claim to codetermination about his own work position. He has to be informed about his position and responsibilities, and the job procedures (see also, the Arbeitsschutzgesetz). He has a right of making suggestions and to inspect certain company documents.

Operational codetermination

Operational codetermination (Betriebliche Mitbestimmung) concerns the organisation of the business, job arrangements, personal planning, guidelines for hiring, social services, time registration and performance assessments. This is found in the Betriebsverfassungsgesetz (BetrVG, Industrial Relations Law).

The Betriebsrat or works council is the organ of operational codetermination. In the public sector it is known as the Personalrat (or staff council).

Corporate codetermination

Corporate codetermination (Unternehmensmitbestimmung) concerns private (GmbH) and public limited companies (AktG). The Drittelbeteiligungsgesetz provides for one third of the supervisory board to be elected by workers in companies with more than 500 employees. For companies with more than 2000 employees the Mitbestimmungsgesetz requires half of the supervisory board (Aufsichtsrat) to be representative of the workers (subject to the chairman of the board being a shareholder appointee). In the coal, mining and steel industry the Montan-Mitbestimmungsgesetz allows complete parity between workers and shareholders for companies with over 1000 workers.

In December 2005 there were 729 companies with supervisory boards regulated by the Mitbestimmungsgesetz and around 30 under the Montanmitbestimmungsgesetz.

Historical developmentEdit

  • 1848 The Frankfurt Parliament processed a minority proposal for industry organisation that included boundaries for corporate power by setting up works councils.
  • 1850 The first workers' committees were established in four printing houses in Eilenburg, Saxony.
  • 1891 After the repeal of the Sozialistengesetz workers' committees could be founded freely. However, this happened only where there were active unions.
  • 1905 In reaction to a strike in the Ruhr coalmines, the Prussian Berggesetz introduced workers' committees in mining companies with more than 100 workers.
  • 1916 The Auxiliary Services Act (1916) (Gesetz des Vaterländischen Hilfsdiensts) created workers' committees for all companies producing for the war effort with more than 50 workers. These committees had the right to be consulted in social affairs.
  • 1920 The Betriebsrätegesetz (Works Council Act) mandated consultative bodies for workers in businesses with more than 20 employees. The social and economic interests of workers were to be represented and considered to the management.
  • 1934 After the Nazis seized power, works councils were abolished and unions were broken up.
  • 1946/47 The Allied Control Council, through the Kontrollratsgesetz No. 22, allowed works councils as in the Weimar Republic.
  • 1951 The Montan-Mitbestimmungsgesetz (Coal, Steel and Mining Codetermination Law) required codetermination in businesses with more than 1,000 employees through workers' representatives making up one half of the supervisory boards.
  • 1952 The Betriebsverfassungsgesetz mandated participation of workers at shopfloor level through works councils.
  • 1955 The Bundespersonalvertretungsgesetz allowed codetermination among members of the civil services in the Federation and the German states.
  • 1972 The Betriebsverfassungsgesetz was updated and reissued.
  • 1976 The Mitbestimmungsgesetz required codetermination in all companies with more than 2,000 employees.

Codetermination lawsEdit

Coal and Steel Codetermination Act of 1951Edit

After threats of massive strikes by unions the Gesetz über die Mitbestimmung der Arbeitnehmer in den Aufsichtsräten und Vorständen der Unternehmen des Bergbaus und der Eisen- und Stahlerzeugenden Industrie vom 21. Mai 1951 was passed on 7 June 1951. It provided for equal representation on the supervisory board of directors for workers and employers.

On the worker side, representatives are to name a "further member" who acts explicitly in the interests of the community. The purpose was that in the lead up to World War, these companies were seen to openly support the Nazis financially. To prevent a stalemate on the board, a neutral member is to be appointed, which the parties must agree on. On the management board, one member must be a Staff-director (Arbeitsdirecktor) who cannot be appointed against the votes of the worker directors on the supervisory board.

Companies attempted to avoid the effects of the law after it was passed. The steel company Mannesmann registered another holding company outside the steel industry, intended to avoid the law. In response the Mitbestimmungsergänzungsgesetz (the Codetermination Supplementary Act, known as "Lex Mannesmann") was passed to prevent the practice.

Works Councils Act of 1952Edit

Passed on the 11 October 1952, this law introduce one third selection of supervisory board directors by workers (§§ 76 ff. BetrVG). An exception is made for family companies. For each two shareholder members, the works council can send a third worker representative. They may also participate in committees of the supervisory board.

Works Councils Act of 1972Edit

On 15 January 1972 the Act of 1952 was updated giving more powers for participation in personal and social affairs of company employees. Individual worker rights were strengthened in relation to unions.

Codetermination Act of 1976Edit

Third Participation Act 2004Edit

On 18 May 2004 the Drittelbeteiligungsgesetz replaced, and made minor amendments to the Betriebsverfassungsgesetz of 1952 which had remained in force even after the new issuing of the most provisions as "Betriebsverfassungsgesetz of 1972"

European lawEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ For historical development of codetermination in Germany, see E McGaughey, 'The Codetermination Bargains: The History of German Corporate and Labour Law' (2015) LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 10/2015
  2. ^ "Betriebsverfassungsgesetz law text (german)".
  3. ^ Andrea Kuffner: Die Beteiligung der Arbeitnehmer in der Europäischen Aktiengesellschaft, Wiku-Verlag, 2003, S.6


  • Sarah Bormann, Angriff auf die Mitbestimmung. Unternehmensstrategien gegen Betriebsräte – der Fall Schlecker (Sigma, Berlin 2007) ISBN 978-3-8360-8685-1
  • Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales (Hrsg.): Mitbestimmung - Ein gutes Unternehmen. (Volltext[permanent dead link])
  • Jens Gäbert and Brigitte Maschmann-Schulz, Mitbestimmung im Gesundheitsschutz, 2008, ISBN 978-3-7663-3498-5 (Umsetzung des Arbeitsschutzgesetzes mit Hilfe des Betriebsverfassungsgesetzes)
  • Peter Hanau, Peter Ulmer and Mathias Habersack, Mitbestimmungsrecht. Kommentierung des MitbestG, der DrittelbG und der §§ 34 bis 38 SEBG. (= Beck'sche Kurz-Kommentare; Bd. 24). 2. Auflage. Beck, München 2006, ISBN 3-406-44832-1
  • Petra Junghans, Mitwirkung und Mitbestimmung der Betriebsgewerkschaftsleitung in den Betrieben der DDR. Eine empirische Untersuchung in Ost-Berliner Industriebetrieben. WVB, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-936846-78-2 (zugl. Dissertation, FU Berlin 2003)
  • E McGaughey, 'The Codetermination Bargains: The History of German Corporate and Labour Law' (2016) 23(1) Columbia Journal of European Law 135
  • Horst-Udo Niedenhoff, Mitbestimmung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. 14. Auflage. DIV, Köln 2005, ISBN 3-602-14698-7
  • Michael Nienerza, Unternehmerische Mitbestimmung in internationalen Konzernen. Dissertation, Universität zu Köln 2005 (Volltext)
  • Ralf Pieper, Handbuch Arbeitsschutz, Kapitel 2.7.4 Mitbestimmung, 2005, ISBN 978-3-7663-3558-6
  • Hans Pohl (ed), Mitbestimmung und Betriebsverfassung in Deutschland, Frankreich und Großbritannien seit dem 19. Jahrhundert'. Tagungsband zum 16. wissenschaftlichen Symposium auf Schloss Quint bei Trier 1993. Steiner, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-515-06894-5

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