European Works Councils as Actors in Intra-Company Negotiations
Fakultät für Sozialwissenschaft Ruhr-Universität Bochum Bochum, Germany
Due to the increasing intensity of cross-border integration of economic activities, European Works Councils play an important role in the regulation of interests in international companies. By now, there is a substantial number of studies dealing with different aspects of EWCs. Previous research has often dealt with the potential of EWCs to influence management decisions and to participate in joint negotiations. It was pointed out that EWCs vary extremely regarding their activities and their ability to effectively influence company decisions (see, for instance, Lecher and Platzer 1997; Waddington and Kerckhofs 2003; Kotthoff 2005). While some EWCs operate on a low level (as simple ?tools? for the distribution of selected information), some others - especially in the automotive sector - have developed astonishing competences regarding the ability to participate in and influence company decisions. Some EWCs, for instance at GM or Ford, are engaged negotiation processes with management, thereby exceeding the provisions of the EWC Directive. However, in a theoretical perspective, previous EWC research has paid only little attention to conceptualise those processes systematically. Instead, previous studies were often based on an ?extended? industrial relations model, which traditionally emphasizes the inter-action between management and employee representatives in a capital and labour relationship.
With respect to the empirical field of the automotive industry, the aim of this paper is to present a systematic approach to the understanding of how EWCs become relevant actors in the company?s interest regulation processes. Therefore, a concept is developed which comprises findings from EWC research, industrial relations, and the sociology of organizations. It is argued that ? besides other influencing factors like trajectories, cultural traditions or national legislation ? three factors can be analytically distinguished which affect the chances of EWCs to become ?negotiating actors?: organizational need, organizational ability, and management strategies. The theoretical approach will be exemplified by case studies of six automotive companies.