European Works Councils are bodies representing the European employees of a company. Through them, workers are informed and consulted by management on the progress of the business and any significant decision at European level that could affect their employment or working conditions.
The initial EU Directive on this (94/45/EC) goes back to 1994. It was extended to the UK by another Directive (97/74/EC) and adapted by a third Directive (2006/109/EC) to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania.
Member States are to provide for the right to establish European Works Councils in companies or groups of companies with at least 1000 employees in the EU and the other countries of the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), when there are at least 150 employees in each of two Member States.
A request by 100 employees from two countries or an initiative by the employer triggers the process of creating a new European Works Council. The composition and functioning of each European Works Council is adapted to the company’s specific situation by a signed agreement between management and workers’ representatives of the different countries involved. Subsidiary requirements are to apply only in the absence of this agreement. The obligations arising from the Directive do not apply to companies which already had an agreed mechanism for the transnational information and consultation of their entire workforce when the Directive took effect in 1996.
Political agreement was reached in 2008 to recast the Directive. The aims are to ensure the effectiveness of employees’ transnational information and consultation rights, increase the number of European Works Councils and enable the continuous functioning of the existing ones.
The texts of the current and previous Directives are available, together with working documents, national implementation measures and implementation reports.
The new rules of Directive 2009/38/EC take effect on 6 June 2011. More information:
As regards the setting up of new European Works Councils, three cases brought before the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling have established the principle that the managements of all undertakings located in Member States are required to supply any information required to open negotiations on setting up an European Works Council, in particular information on the structure or organisation of the group, to employee representatives, irrespective of where the headquarters of the group is located or of the central management’s opinion as to the relevance of the Directive.
See also the 2008 impact assessment for a review of major national court cases.