At Presence we’ve worked with European Works Councils since they were first conceived. Throughout the years we’ve seen them grow and evolve, and we’ve adapted our support to their changing needs. Very often, we see that new EWC members, managers and employee representatives alike, feel lost when they are first exposed to this European-level Council. This article is intended to give them a first general idea of what European Works Councils are and what their raison d’être is. If you are looking for more detailed and advanced information, please contact us via the link at the bottom of this page.

A European Works Council, EWC for short, is a council where European employee representatives of a specific multinational and their management counterparts meet to discuss topics related to the progress of business and how it affects employment, working conditions and working methods. The European Works Council came into existence by virtue of a Directive drafted by the European Commission, whose intention it was to have companies install a structure through which management could inform and consult employees on significant transnational projects and changes to the company structure or activities. This gave employees the opportunity to express their views and voice their suggestions on the matter(s) at hand, through their representatives. The original EWC Directive dates back to 1994 and was recast in 2009. The Directive was transposed in the national legislations of the member states, and even if the EU member states interpreted the Directive according to their own culture and tradition when they transposed it into national law, there are a couple of basic provisions that are identical in all of the member states. They include:

  • The company has to employ at least 1000 employees within the EU member states and have at least 150 employees in at least 2 member states (each) to be able to set up an EWC
  • Management or employees have to take the initiative to request the creation of an EWC, it is not imposed by an external institution/body
  • A Special Negotiating Body has to be formed, composed of employee representatives. This body and Central Management will negotiate the agreement which will serve as a basis for the future EWC’s work
  • If the negotiations do not result in an EWC agreement after three years, the so-called subsidiary requirements come into force, i.e. the basic provisions in the transposed law. The EWC Agreement then reflects these provisions rather than the specific requirements of the negotiating parties, i.e. the SNB members and Central Management
  • The EWC agreement always has to indicate the EU member state legislation that is applicable in case of disputes.

As it stands, the EWC Directive and its transpositions serve as a framework for the negotiation of EWC agreements, but the European Commission encourages companies to adapt their agreements to their business and realities. This means that EWCs from different companies can be very diverse in terms of size, composition and working method, which makes them hard to compare sometimes. Information and consultation are always their main purpose, but the way in which this is handled in practice, differs.

So, while it is useful to explore the internet for information on how EWCs work and what their purpose is, it is best to seek some specific guidance by EWC experts to get a proper idea of what is expected of you in the EWC. These experts are not necessarily external consultants. In the case of existing EWCs, they may be colleagues who have been involved with the EWC for a while and who can tell you all about your EWC’s functioning. If you want to set up an EWC, and negotiate an agreement, it is probably best to consult one of the experts in our EWC Network. They have extensive experience with the negotiation of agreements and the management of EWCs, and usually belong to -or are linked to- trade union or employer federations. There are also several organisations that organise specific hands-on workshops and introductions to working with EWCs that may help you on your way.

We hope that this quick overview has made the prospect of working in an EWC less daunting. If you are looking for more specific information, or guidance by one of the EWC experts in our network, or indeed if you need training for yourself or your EWC, contact us!

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