Membership in a trade union and the application of a collective agreement to your employment relationship give you many advantages. Works councils in companies also play an important role in protecting your rights.
1. Membership of a trade union
Trade unions are supportive communities that stand up for the rights of workers. At the political level, trade unions demand fair working conditions and income as well as the protection of weaker people.
As an EU citizen in Germany you can become a member of the trade unions and exercise trade union rights just like nationals. These rights include access to the administration and management of trade unions and the right to vote and stand for election.
The union membership offers many advantages especially in terms of legal protection.
Members are guaranteed free legal advice and legal representation if they have any questions regarding
- labour law (wages, holidays, dismissal, etc.),
- health and care insurance, unemployment insurance, pension insurance (illness, accident at work, accident on the way to work),
- other social law issues and administrative law.
Please note: In order to take advantage of free legal advice or legal representation, you must have been a member of the respective trade union for at least 3 months and have paid membership fees.
2. Membership fee
As a rule, the monthly contribution is 1% of the average monthly gross income. Students, pensioners and jobseekers pay lower contributions, which are calculated differently depending on the union.
In addition to guaranteeing legal protection, membership in a trade union has many other advantages. Find more information on this in the FAQs.
Membership in a union also strengthens your integration in the company. With your membership you also help to promote fairer working conditions in the industry in which you work.
The German Trade Union Federation (DBG) has 8 different member unions. If you do not know which union is responsible for you, you can also join a union through the DGB.
3. Collective agreements
Collective agreements contain important rights that you as an employee can refer to regarding your employer. In terms of content, it is above all claims to wages and salaries or bonuses for overtime or work on public holidays. But other financial entitlements are also often stipulated in collective agreements, e.g. claims for severance pay, Christmas bonuses or holiday bonuses, etc.
A collective agreement can apply to your employment contract in the following ways:
- A collective agreement applies to you if you are a member of a union that has concluded the collective agreement and your employer is bound by the collective agreement. An employer is bound by a collective agreement if it is a member of the union or has signed a collective agreement with the union itself.
- A collective agreement also applies to you if you have agreed in your employment contract with the employer that a certain collective agreement is applicable to your employment relationship. In this case it does not matter whether you are a member of the union and your employer is a member of an employers’ association.
- A collective agreement also applies to you if it has been declared generally binding by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. In this case it also does not matter whether you are a member of the union and your employer is a member of an employers’ association. You can find all collective agreements that have been declared generally binding here.
Please note: Collective agreements apply even if you and your employer are not aware of them. The claims from the collective agreements expire after a certain time or expire due to preclusive periods. It is therefore important that you find out whether and which collective agreements apply to your employment relationship.
4. Works council
In Germany there are no basic trade union organisations in the company. Instead, the works councils are the most important point of contact for operational problems. The works councils, in turn, work closely with the union.
The works council represents the interests of employees in the company. It monitors that the applicable laws, occupational safety regulations, collective agreements and organisation-level agreements are observed by the employer. The works council also advocates the equal treatment of employees and the integration of foreign employees.
The works council has certain powers and organisational options within the company which enable it to fulfil its tasks.
The works council:
- must agree to every new hiring,
- must be heard before each dismissal,
- ensures a fair pay classification,
- determines working conditions (start and end of work, break times, overtime, on-call service, part-time, etc.,
- stands up for the rights of trainees,
- ensures occupational health and safety,
- can request measures to combat racism and xenophobia in the company.
If there is no works council in your company, you can establish a works council.
If you are a member of the works council, you enjoy special protection against dismissal. Dismissal by notice of works council members is completely prohibited. The protection against dismissal applies for the period from the list for election up to the end of one year after termination of membership in the works council.
The works council can conclude Organisation-level agreements with the employer. Organisation-level agreements are generally valid, meaning for all employees of the company or for certain employee groups which are based on a contract between the employer and the works council. There are many regulations in organisation-level agreements that define your rights and obligations as an employee of the company. These can be, for example, general holiday principles or holiday plans for the current year, working hours, recording of working hours, break regulations or behavioural guidelines for dealing with colleagues or customers.
Many organisation-level agreements are also important from a financial point of view because they define payment entitlements, e.g. commissions, wage extra payments or annual target planning.