FAQ Trade unions
In principle, the employees of every organisation with five members of staff who are entitled to vote have the right to set up a works council. Members of staff must be aged 18 or over to be entitled to vote. Temporary workers (Leiharbeitnehmer) are entitled to vote if they have been working in the organisation to which they are temporarily assigned for longer than 3 months.
Works councils only exist where there are enough dedicated employees who are willing to set one up. All members of staff who stand for election and have worked for the organisation for at least 6 months can be elected to the works council. Nationality and place of residence are irrelevant in this context.
Please note: Temporary workers cannot stand for election to the works council in the organisation to which they are temporarily assigned. However, they can do so in the temporary work agency which employs them.
The size of the works council depends on the in the organisation.
The members of the works council are elected democratically by the workforce using a specified electoral process. It is therefore advisable to seek support from the trade unions when preparing to set up a works council. You can do so by contacting your trade union or, if you are not a trade union member, the of the German Trade Union Confederation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund), where you will be told who you should talk to.
A collective agreement is an agreement between a trade union and an employers’ association or an individual employer. Collective agreements cannot be concluded by a works council (Betriebsrat) or a group of employees. The collective agreement regulates the working conditions for the employment contracts to which it applies.
The working conditions regulated in collective agreements include, in particular, pay levels, working time, holiday leave, entitlement to bonuses, etc. In addition, collective agreements also contain provisions on breaks, probationary periods, notice periods and time limits for the enforcement of rights.
There are several types of collective agreement:
- Framework collective agreement (Manteltarifvertrag/Rahmentarifvertrag)
This type of agreement covers all fundamental issues relating to working time, special notice periods or the amount of holiday entitlement. A framework collective agreement sets out the pay grades for employees’ remuneration. It can also include obligations such as a requirement to hire apprentices once they have completed their vocational training.
- Regional collective agreement (Flächentarifvertrag/Verbandstarifvertrag)
This is the most common type of collective agreement in Germany. It can apply to the whole of Germany, selected Länder (federal states) or just one Land. It is limited to the region in question.
- Company agreement (Firmentarifvertrag/Haustarifvertrag)
A company agreement only applies to the company in question. In the automotive industry (for example at Volkswagen or BMW), company agreements are always negotiated.
- Sector-wide collective agreement (Branchentarifvertrag)
A sector-wide collective agreement is negotiated by the trade union and the employers’ association for the sector in question; this takes place in the chemicals industry, for example.
- Collective agreement on pay (Vergütungstarifvertrag/Entgelttarifvertrag)
This type of collective agreement sets out the amount of pay employees receive for their work. As a result, many employees also know this type of agreement as a collective agreement on wages (Lohntarifvertrag). A collective agreement on wages prevents employees being paid less than the agreed rate. Special pay components, such as a Christmas bonus, are not always covered by a collective agreement on pay. Special collective agreements are often concluded to cover these matters.
In addition to free legal advice and legal representation, as a trade union member you enjoy the following benefits:
- Benefits under collective agreements
Trade union members are legally entitled to the benefits established in collective agreements.
- Support in the event of industrial disputes
Members receive support in the event of strikes, lock-outs and disciplinary measures.
- Vocational development and continuing training
Seminars and further training are offered on subjects relevant to the organisation and society more widely.
- Advice and information
Information is provided free of charge (for example in the form of brochures and journals) on important and topical legal issues. It is possible to obtain individual advice.
- Special services and rates / leisure activities, accident insurance
Members of some trade unions benefit from optional special rates for insurance or trips.