European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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European Works Councils

European Works Councils (EWCs) are a body representing interests of employees of multinational companies (MNC) towards central management. They are made of national representatives elected by workers from countries where an MNC has operations.

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 Directive was modified in 2009 by a recast directive 2009/38/EC.

The main purpose of the EWC Directive is ‘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. Initially, 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, Directive 2003/72/EC supplementing the Statute for a European Cooperative Society with regard to the involvement of employees and framework directive 2002/14/EC.

The ETUI pursues a wide range of activities relating to EWCs and offers a number of services. Several research projects (EWC legislation, jurisprudence, agreements, monitoring of trends in EWC operation) 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 resource provided by the ETUI’s since the first EWCs began to be set up. It is now the reference database for research and policy-making in the area of EWCs.

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