European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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European Works Councils

European Works Councils (EWCs) were originally a pragmatic response by the workforce of multinational companies (MNCs) to globalisation/Europeanisation. Developed in the 1980s by means of informal contacts between workers’ representatives from various European countries, these bodies soon proved themselves able to cater for the information and consultation needs of both the workforce and company management. Shortly thereafter, in 1994, the EWC directive (94/45/EC) was adopted, coming into force on 22/09/1996 and thereby institutionalising the concept of transnational worker representation structures.

The main purpose of Directive 94/45/EC was ‘to ensure that the employees of Community-scale undertakings are properly informed and consulted when decisions which affect them are taken in a Member State other than that in which they are employed’ (Recital 11). As a form of company-level social dialogue, a contractual approach to EWCs was favoured. In order to invite social partners to negotiate voluntary solutions, a window of opportunity (from 22/09/1994 to 22/09/1996) was opened, allowing management and workers’ representatives to conclude agreements that would be exempt from the minimum standards of the directive.

The EWC legislation covers MNCs which employ at least 1000 workers in the EU/EEA and, at the same time, at least 150 staff in two or more Member States. Since the adoption of the legal framework EWC figures have been growing constantly, albeit at a somewhat erratic pace. Adoption of the directive 94/45/EC contributed also to the passing of other EU directives in this area, namely the SE directive 2001/86/EC and framework directive 2002/14/EC.

As from the moment of its adoption, however, directive 94/45/EC EWCs suffered from some major shortcomings. Most importantly, it lacked a clear definition of ‘information’, while the description of ‘consultation’ was also excessively vague. The quality of information and consultation was often poor, resulting in a number of cases in legal proceedings. This led to the long awaited review of the directive (which came 10 years late, see art. 15 of 94/45/EC), launched by the European Commission in 2008. The recast directive 2009/38/EC addresses some of the most flagrant shortcomings and offers improvements in some areas of EWC operation (see Its date of entry into force was 06/06/2011.

The ETUI pursues a wide range of activities relating to EWCs and offers a number of services. Several research projects (EWC legislation, jurisprudence, agreements) and training activities are conducted, alongside the provision of website services, not least as a part of the European Workers’ Participation Competence Centre. The ETUI database of European Works Councils has been an important aspect of the ETUI’s work since the first EWCs began to be set up. Created in 1995 as a research project on multinational companies covered by directive 94/45/EC, it was gradually extended to include new components and grew to become one of the key sources of information on EWCs. As well as providing statistics on EWCs, the ETUI also analyses various aspects of their practice, of legislation, as well as of the content of EWC agreements, while also providing transnational overviews of selected aspects.

The ETUI also provides tailor-made training courses and expertise for European Works Councils, Special Negotiation Bodies (SNB), and SE Representative Bodies (SE RB), in close cooperation with the relevant Trade Union organisations on the national and European level (European Trade Union Federations).


Romuald Jagodzinski Senior Researcher