Project Information

Central and group works councils in changing corporate structures

Background and Objectives

Central and group works councils are core institutions of German co-determination. Despite of their importance, however, hardly any empirical evidence regarding their functioning and structures exists. Against this backgdrop, the project focuses on tasks and structures of central and group works councils as well as the topics they are dealing with and aims to analyze their interactions with local works councils as well as trade unions.

Central and group works councils are an essential part of the multi-level system of employee representation. According to the Works Constitution Act (BetrVG) the primary responsibility lies within works councils at the establishment level. This subsidiary logic creates multiple tensions and challenges for the representation of employee interests. On the one hand, it can be assumed that the central pooling of resources at company and group level goes hand in hand with a professionalization of employee representation; on the other hand, the establishment level remains the central place for securing legitimacy and the participation of indidvidual employees. Moreover, strategic decisions taken by management at company or group level create conditions, which are, however, difficult to influence at the establishment level. This can lead to a mismatch between the decision-making structures within companies and the co-determination rights of works councils. At the same time, this also creates challenges for the support and advisory services provided by trade unions.

Research Questions

The research project revolves around four questions:

  1. Coordination and integration of interests at and between different levels of employee representation: How are responsibilities, competences and decision-making processes distributed among local works councils and central and group works councils?
  2. Decision-making structures within companies: What challenges does employee representation face when management structures become more complex? Do decision-making centers emerge that are no longer directly accessible to co-determination by works councils?
  3. Relationship between centralized and decentralized processes: How are local works councils integrated into decision-making and communication processes at company and group level? How and in which way are employees integrated in these processes?
  4. Trade union policy: What does the complexity of representation structures mean for the relationship between works councils and trade unions? What are the implications for advice and support by trade unions?


The analysis is based on two methods: 16 company case studies and a survey of trade union coordinators. The case studies are intended to provide in-depth insights into tasks and structures of central and group works council and their interactions with works councils at local level. Moreover, the case studies provide insights into challenges arising from complex decision-making structures at management side and sheds light on trade union support. The study mainly focuses on the manufacturing sector but includes also some contrasting cases from the service sector. The case studies are supplemented by a standardized survey of of trade union coordinators in order to gain a better understanding of their activities as well as the overall functioning of the multi-level system of employee representation.

Project data

Term of the project:
01.08.2021 - 31.01.2024

Reseach department:
Working-Time and Work Organisation

Project management:
Dr. Sophie Rosenbohm

Project team:
Prof. Dr. Thomas Haipeter,Dr. Johannes Schulten