T3-02: Changes in employee representation

5 September 2019, 16:00–17:30

Chair: Claudia Weinkopf


Roots, reason and resistance

Diverging motives and tensions when standing for employee representative elections

Maarten Hermans, HIVA, KU Leuven

In the four-annual Belgian social elections 1.7 million employees elect approximately 65.000 of their colleagues in their enterprise or organization to a formal position as employee representative. Through their role and position in Work Councils, Committee’s for Health and Safety, and the union delegation, these representatives are the primary anchor point of the Belgian social dialogue-system at the company-level.

This position means that they are also increasingly the focus of rising expectations in the context of discussions on union renewal and strategy. Union membership drives, the need for recruiting representatives in younger segments of the workforce, shifting to an organizing model, etc., generally increase the demands on company-level union representatives. This trend coincides with decentralization tendencies in collective bargaining, which similarly shifts roles and expectations to a lower level. Both trends raise the question what motivates or discourages current employee representatives to take up company-level union roles, and if this is compatible with changing union strategies.

However, in the industrial relations literature on the sector-oriented and centralized Belgian social dialogue-system, there is relatively little attention to individual-level attitudes, motivations and tensions when standing for employee representative elections. In this descriptive paper we aim to narrow this gap by analyzing both self-reported individual attitudes and motivations, as well as organizational and sectoral characteristics that discourage employees from submitting their candidacy, such as anti-union employer behavior.

We do so by drawing on a unique longitudinal four wave survey (2014-2016) of candidate- and elected representatives, with waves bridging the social elections of 2016. This longitudinal dataset is linked with administrative data on individual characteristics, and matched with both enterprise characteristics and a longitudinal dataset of individual candidate and enterprise-level social election outcomes (1995-2016).

Keywords: social elections; employee representation; union renewal; shop stewards.

The long and unfinished road to workers’ participation in France

Udo Rehfeldt, IRES

The paper will analyse the recent reforms in the French system of workers’ participation at workplace and company level in three fields. The first field is information and consultation. Here the rights of the works councils have further been strengthened on economic issues and extended towards strategic management decisions. Responding to demands by the employers’ organisations, existing workplace representation bodies have been merged and centralised. The second field is collective bargaining at the workplace and company level. Here the trade union delegates have conserved their monopoly for collective bargaining. The unions continue to coordinate the whole system of workers’ participation, as long they are present at the workplace level. Responding to employers’ demands, collective bargaining without unions is however facilitated and derogation in peius from sector level agreements permitted. The legislator’s intention is to further decentralize the whole system of collective bargaining. The third field is participation in economic decision making through board-level employee representation (BLER). Here France is in a paradoxical situation. It was the first European country to introduce BLER as soon as 1945, which remained long time limited to the public sector. Since 2013, BLER is mandatory also in the private sector, but with the highest thresholds, the lowest number of employee representatives per company compared to other BLER systems in Europe, as well as procedural restrictions unknown elsewhere. The obstacles for enhancing this form of participation are rooted in the French industrial relations culture, historically characterized by mistrust between employers and unions, and by hostility towards BLER within the employers’ organizations, but also within the trade unions. The actors’ positions have however begun to change, as one can observe in the ongoing debate on company law reform in order to enhance company sustainability.


  • Rehfeldt U. (2018), “Industrial Relations in France: From the underdevelopment of collective bargaining to the failure of neocorporatist concertation”, Employee Relations, n° special “Industrial Relations in the 21st century Europe”, Vol. 40, No. 4, February; pp. 617-633.
  • Rehfeldt U., Vincent C. (2018), “The decentralisation of collective bargaining in France: an escalating process”, in Leonardi S., Pedersini R. (eds.), Multi-employer Bargaining Under Pressure. Decentralisation trends in five European countries, Brussels: ETUI; pp. 151-184.
  • Rehfeldt U. (2019), “Workers’ participation at plant level: France”, in: Berger S., Pries L., Wannöfel M. (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Workers' Participation at Plant Level, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 323-342.


The relation between participation, influence and trust in employment relations at local level

Kristin Alsos, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo
Sissel C. Trygstad, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo

Employee participation and cooperation at company level play a pivotal role in the Norwegian labour market model. These rights are embedded both in statutory law and in national and industry level collective agreements.  In sum, these provide both individual and collective co-determination rights at company level. In general, the organized parts of the Norwegian labour marked are characterized by well-established channels for voice through union representatives, and a climate of co-operation and trust. It is believed that the model promotes efficiency and productiveness.

In a recent study (Alsos & Trygstad 2019) we identified a participation gap: 29 percent of local TU reps did not take part in formal or informal cooperation at local level, even though this is granted by collective agreement. In this paper we take a closer look at this group of TU reps, and compare them with those who do participate. We discuss how formal and informal participation affect the TU reps’ experienced influence over decisions related to the work place. Furthermore, is there a correlation between TU reps’ experienced influence and trust between the local industrial parties? Such correlation may be seen as a challenge to the Norwegian labour market model.

The analyses are based on a survey among TU reps at company level within several industries in the private sector; namely manufacturing, construction, hotels & restaurants and retail trade. We also conducted in-depth interviews among management and TU reps at company level in more than 30 companies of different size, and in the same industries as covered by the survey.

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