You have probably heard of a Works Council. Or you have recently learned about it. But what is it? Let me give you a brief explanation of the Works Council.
After the Second World War, many European countries introduced the concept of the Works Council to represent an organisation's employees. This concept has evolved and been updated many times over the past 70+ years. That is why we want to give you a brief explanation of what a Works Council (Dutch abbreviation: OR*) in the Netherlands is and what it means.
We have simplified our explanation, but behind every sentence or every word, there is a world of information and legal statements.
every organisation with more than 50 employees must have a Works Council
Every organisation in the Netherlands with more than 50 employees is legally required to have a Works Council. There are only two exceptions when a Works Council is not mandatory: if the SER has been officially asked for permission (and has granted permission), or if none of the employees wants to take part in the Works Council.
there is a special law: the Works Councils Act
In 1950, the government started to define the rights and obligations of the Works Council, as well as of the management board, in a particular law: the Works Council Act (WOR) (Dutch). This law is regularly updated, and there have already been many legal rulings (case law) about what a Works Council can and what the management board must do. The Social Economic Council (SER) has created an English translation of the WOR.
the Works Council consists of elected employees
The Works Council members are democratically elected employees of the organisation. The elections are organised following the guidelines in the WOR and the regulations determined by the Works Council.
the request for consent and advice by the management board is mandatory
The WOR lists certain topics on which the management board, if they want to change something, is legally required to seek consent or advice, using a so-called 'request for consent' or 'request for advice'. The Works Council can answer this request, either with consent or with advice. The management board cannot simply ignore this consent or advice. In many cases, the management board is legally required to comply with the consent or advice provided by the Works Council. In other words, the management board must have very convincing reasons not to do what the Works Council indicates.
The Works Council is independent
The Works Council consists of elected employees. However, the Works Council has an independent position within the organisation. The work for the Works Council is done during working hours, the Works Council can hire external experts, and the Works Council conducts regular meetings (on an equal level) with the management board. Moreover, the Works Council is a legal entity and can start court proceedings if the Works Council thinks that the management board does not comply with their consent or advice as intended.
the Works Council discusses all changes in policies and regulations
All policies and rules that are relevant to employees in the organisation are subject to discussion in the Works Council, and the Works Council discusses these matters with the management board. The management board cannot adjust policies and rules until it has asked the Works Council for its consent or advice. The topics this applies to are listed in the WOR.
why is there a Works Council?
Dutch organisations have a Works Council "…in the best interest of the organisation and all its objectives…" (art 2, WOR). The Works Council must ensure that sound and careful decisions are made (in the interest of the organisation). The Works Council must also ensure that the interests of the employees are taken into account.
does that work in practice?
In recent years, much has changed, in Dutch society, in politics and the world. Reaching compromises (what we call ‘polderen’) is still what we do best in the Netherlands. We always want to talk things out. Unlike many people in countries around us, the Dutch are not quick to protest. They prefer to talk. And most Works Councils are very reasonable in their discussions and their needs.
One condition is that the management board sees and treats the Works Council as an equal partner, as the WOR states. In practice, this means discussing plans before they are finalised, with both supporters and opponents, to achieve the best plan that everyone can rally behind. For employees and directors who did not grow up in the Netherlands, this is often a significant cultural difference.
want to know more? our website contains lots of information
This article contains a simplified explanation of 70 years of culture, a law with 53 articles, hundreds of pages of case law and many years of practical experience. The rest of our website gives a lot of information about the topics a Works Council and management board (and HR) have to deal with. Just browse, or use the search function.
For your convenience, we have selected several topics that are useful when you first get acquainted with the concept of Works Councils.
And here are some additional links if you need practical information right away:
- on training and guidance for the Works Council
- on what constitutes an advisory process for the Works Council
- an eBook about Basic Works Council knowledge and concepts (currently only in Dutch)
* Note: although the English translation of the Dutch word ‘Ondernemingsraad’ is ‘Works Council’, we will be using the Dutch abbreviation OR where this is appropriate on our website.
Note: Please note that we are a Dutch organisation and that all our information is originally composed in Dutch. For the benefit of our English-speaking customers we have translated some of our online information. We are still in the process of translating even more of our information. It could therefore be that you will come across Dutch pages on CT2.nl. Please contact us if you would like more information.