As soon as the works council election is over, the employer and the new works council members face the challenge of shaping their future cooperation in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way. Not least in times of pandemics, conflicts are often pre-programmed in this context.
In order to reduce these to a minimum, the following first steps after the election are particularly useful.
Step 1: Establishing a basis of trust, acceptance of the respective roles
Once the works council elections are over and the constituent meeting of the new works council has been held, at which the works council chairperson and deputy chairperson are to be elected, the actual work of the works council can begin.
In practice, however, it is not uncommon for both parties to have difficulties getting used to the new counterpart and accepting the role assigned to them by law, especially when a works council has been elected for the first time.
The employer has no motivation whatsoever to let employee representatives interfere in the management and organisation of the company, while the employee representatives want to protect the interests of the workforce as much as possible, especially in uncertain times, and often lose sight of the economic effects and the competitive situation of the company.
Here it is helpful and necessary to put oneself in the role of the respective counterpart and to accept this and also to see the positive aspects of the legally desired cooperation. For example, it is not only disadvantageous for employers but often also very advantageous to have one single point of contact who represents the interests of the employees in a bundled way. Conversely, the supposedly most successful works council work is of no use if the common livelihood of all company employees and managers is jeopardised and if this works council activity is thus no longer "for the benefit of the employees and the company" (cf. section 2 (1) Works Constitution Act).
Step 2: Analyse and name conflict issues
First of all, all conflicts that originate from the election and could be carried over into the new term of office should be openly named and, if possible, resolved in order to prevent a permanent inhibition of cooperation and to ensure that cooperation is unencumbered from the outset.
Then a rough roadmap for the term of office should be drawn up together with all the large and small projects and all the already foreseeable conflict issues that need to be resolved.
Purely due to the pandemic, many companies are for example likely to be dealing with short-time work and staff adjustment measures, the introduction and implementation of working from home and mobile work, the (further) digitalisation of work processes and issues relating to the vaccination status of employees.
Step 3: Establish common ground rules
Many conflicts can already be avoided by establishing common ground rules for cooperation.
For example, if possible, common principles should be developed on when "operational necessities" prevent works council meetings from being held during working hours (cf. section 30, subsection 1, sentence 2, Works Constitution Act), how and when the checkout and checkin for works council activities should take place, how training and educational events should be held and when "operational necessities" prevent participation in such events during working hours (cf. section 37, subsection 6, sentence 3 et seq., Works Constitution Act), etc.
Furthermore, the "monthly meeting" between employer and works council provided for by law (cf. section 74, subsection 1, sentence 1, Works Constitution Act) should also take place regularly in order to be able to identify conflict situations at an early stage.