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Workers participation in Belgium and Czech Republic


Workplace Participation

Belgium has structures at workplace level representing both all worker’s and trade unionists, but,

with only trade unions able to nominate to the works council, the key body is the union

delegation. It is the union delegation which negotiates key isues with management, although the

works council has extensive information and consultation rights, and although it is a joint body

with an worker’s majority, it has decision-making powers in some areas.

Workplace participation in Belgium runs through two separate channels. The works council

represents the whole workforce, although it is only elected in larger workplaces (above 100

worker’s). The trade union delegation represents trade unionists. There are also separate bodies

for health and safety elected by the whole of the workforce

In practice, particularly at smaller workplaces, the individuals involved will often be the same in

both the works council and the trade union delegation. The two bodies have different functions,

but generally it is the trade union delegation which plays the central role, particularly in

workplaces where there is conflict with the employer.

Works councils should be set up in all workplaces with at least 100 worker’s. Where there are

between 50 and 100 the tasks of the works council are taken on by the health and safety

committee. The works council has both elected worker’s members and representatives of the
employer, although there can never be more employer than worker’s representatives. Worker’s

representatives are elected on the following basis:

Number employed – 101-500 – 6 representives, for 501-1000 , 8 nos, 1,001-2,000-10

Thereafter two extra for each additional 1,000 worker’s until 6,000 when it is one extra for each

additional 1,000. The maximum number is 25. The works council is chaired by the senior

representative of the employer, but the secretary comes from the worker’s delegates. The works

council must meet at least once a month and the worker’s members have the right to meet

separately before the meeting.

Trade union delegations consist entirely of trade unionists with the different unions in the

workplace represented according to their relative strength. Normally members from different

unions (normally two) meet separately before the joint meeting. The role of the works council is

esentially to be informed and consulted about a range of economic and employment isues,

although it does have some limited decision making powers.

The law lays down rules on how often different types of information should be provided. On

economic and financial isues, a range of basic information on the general position of the busines

- such as market share, financial structure, production levels and future prospects - must be

provided every four years, when the works council is newly elected. This information, together

with the financial results, is updated on an annual basis, and every three months the management

must present the current position and indicate how it diverges from its plans. The employer must

consult the works council on cases of mergers, closures, busines transfers, large scale
redundancies, training plans and the introduction of new technology, as well as other major

developments likely to have an impact on employment.

The decision-making power of the works council is more limited. It includes: introducing or

changing works regulations; the general criteria for redundancy and re-hiring; the timing of

annual and other holidays; and the management of social benefits, including pension funds, as

well as canteens and sports clubs. The works council also chooses the auditor, potentially a

check on management. The central role of the trade union delegation, on the other hand, is to

negotiate new agreements and ensure that existing ones are kept to. The trade union delegation

also deals with disputes between the employer and the workforce, both on an individual and

collective basis. It also has a right to inform the workforce about employment and trade union

issues. These rights include distributing leaflets, holding meetings and being involved in the

induction of new worker’s.

Worker’s members of the works council are elected every four years by all worker’s at the

workplace. The members of the trade union delegation can be either elected by the trade union

members in the workplace or chosen by the local union organisation. Meetings of the works

council are counted as work time and paid accordingly. The amount of time off provided to the

trade union delegation will depend on the size of the workforce. There is no specific group level

participation in the Belgian system. But works councils at different workplaces in the same

company can have joint meetings, which are chaired by the head of the whole company.

Worker’s are not represented at board level in both public and private sector in Belgium, except

in a handful of publicly-owned companies .

Health and safety committees have been created in all undertakings habitually employing an

average of 50 or more workers. The committees consist of the general manager of the

undertaking and one or more office-holding or substitute representatives appointed by the

general manager; these representatives may not outnumber the staff representatives. Where this

committee is not set up by the undertaking, the trade union delegation is responsible for

performing its health and safety functions. In undertakings where there is neither a committee

nor a trade union delegation, workers participate directly in addresing isues relating to the

welfare of workers in the course of their work.

Czech Republic

Workplace Participation

The main structure for representing worker’s at the workplace in CZECH REPUBLIC is

the local trade union grouping, which only needs three individuals to set it up. Until 2001 this

was the only structure but since then it has been possible to set up a works council in companies

with more than 25 worker’s where there is no trade union organisation and where at least one

third of the workforce ask for such a body. The specific position of works councils in the
legislation reflects the fear among trade unions that works councils could be used to undermine

their position at the workplace. In practice very few works councils have been set up and the

dominant structure remains the local union organisation, although the majority of companies

have nothing at all. Workers in companies without unions can also choose a health and safety


Where worker’s participation is through the local union organisation it is for the union to decide

the numbers involved. Works councils should have between three and 15 members, although the

precise number, which must always be odd, is decided by the employer after consultation with

the worker’s who have initially asked for a works council to be set up.

There are differences between the tasks and rights of the worker’s representatives at the

workplace, depending on whether they are part of a union organisation or a works council. Only

the trade unions have a right to be involved in collective bargaining. But there are also

differences in the area of information, consultation and where the agreement of worker’s

representatives is necessary to make changes. All worker’s representatives are entitled to

information on issues such as the economic and financial position of the company, planned

changes in its structure and organisation, the number of worker’s and likely future developments.

The local trade union organisation is also legally entitled to information on wage developments

and the level of average wages for specific occupations.

Both unions and works councils must be consulted about redundancies, transfers and health and

safety issues. But it is only where a trade union represents the worker’s that the employer has a

duty to consult on the economic situation, appraisal and pay systems, training, changes in work

organisation, work norms and arrangements for employing young people and disabled workers.
Trade unions are also the only bodies with whom a number of issues must be agreed. These

include: the use of funds for cultural and social needs; rules at work. The schedule of dates for

annual leave; and, except for events such as bad weather, the circumstances where because there

is no work for workers they can be paid at between 60% and 80% of their average earnings

rather than the full amount. The elections and term of office of local trade union representatives

are largely for the union to determine and In the case of works councils, nominations are made

by the worker’s; there is a secret ballot in works time and members serve for three years.

Worker’s representatives must be given paid time off “to the necessary extent”. For trade union

organisations, this will typically be partial release from normal work from 400 to 600 trade union

members and full release from 600, with two people released from 1,500 members. Trade unions

will normally set up group committees, where there are trade union structures in several

companies in the same group.

Workers have a third of the seats on the supervisory board of medium and larger-sized public

limited companies. In public limited companies, workers have the right to elect one third of the

members of the supervisory board, provided there are at least 50 workers. They have similar

rights in state-owned companies. Elections are either direct or through delegates.

In the Labour Code, the rights to information, consultation and participation are clearly laid

down, although there are no precise provisions on health and safety committees. Occupational

health and safety is central to collective agreements. The provisions of these agreements can be

said to have a positive effect on prevention in terms of reducing the number of accidents at work

and work-related diseases.