Works Councils in the Netherlands: All There is to Know
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You may be employed in the Netherlands or still weighing your options, so you’ve probably come across the terms “Works Council” or “Ondernemingsraad”. This may give you pause as you may not know what it is. Is it a Union? Human Resources? How is it important to me? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with all there is to know about Works Councils in the Netherlands.
What is an Ondernemingsraad?
In short, an Ondernemingsraad is a form of employee representation within a corporate entity. In English, it’s referred to as a Works Council – a literal translation. This Works Council is deeply rooted in Dutch society. It is a form of formalized social cooperation between labor, employers, and the government. It is also not a union, as they represent larger sectors or industries and sometimes acts as a facilitator for backing up Works Councils. As Unions are involved in creating Collective Labor Agreements, which can affect Works Councils in organizations that make up specific sectors. Usually giving them more rights.
The Works Council play a formal role in governing employee relations with their employers. To this end, it represents the interests of the employees, holding a legal right to be involved in major decisions that concern them. In addition, it is a forum that allows the inclusion of staff in the general decision-making of a company as they elect some of their peers to represent them. To do this, the employer must provide them with all they need to fulfill this duty.
It is important to distinguish three forms of employee representation:
- Works Council (Ondernemingsraad): the formal body with rights and duties representing employees.
- Employee representation (Personeelsvertegenwoordiging): a less formal form of representation.
- Full staff meetings (Personeelsvergadering): a large meeting where everyone participates.
How is a Works Council Created?
The existence of the Works Council is dependent on the number of staff a company has. There are three different stages:
- If the employer has less than 10 employees, then a Works Council isn’t required, but it doesn’t mean you can’t ask for one.
- It gets interesting if the employer has between 10 and 50 employees. While a Works Council is not required, the employer must provide staff representation if asked by a majority of employees. This then means they can elect their peers to represent their needs. Additionally, at this size, the employer must hold a full staff meeting at least twice a year to allow for input on major decisions.
- If the employer has more than 50 employees, then the employer has to establish a Works Council. This functions as the formal body representing the interests of the employees. It must also be agreed on how many representatives serve and how long they have a mandate. Suppose at any point the number of employees drops below 50. In that case, the Works Council still continues on the agreed mandate time before It can be disbanded.
In exceptional cases where it may be impossible to establish a Works Council, the employer can apply for an exemption with the Social Economic Council of the Netherlands. The cases are assessed on an individual basis and are very rarely granted. In the rare instances when a temporary exemption is granted, the employer is still obliged to provide a legally protected baseline of information to and consultation with employees.
It’s also important to know that the European Works Council exists in the Netherlands under EU law. A slightly different form of Works Council aimed to create employee representation in larger multinational employers. This only applies if the employer is a larger organization with 1000 or more employees and where at least 150 live in the EU and most EEA countries. Forming a European Works Council is similar to a regular Dutch one, as 100 employees must present a request. The significant difference is that these employees must be spread across at least 2 eligible countries. They then set up a Special Negotiation Body to agree on a Works Council agreement.
How does a Works Council work?
A Works Council is a body elected by all the employees on a secret ballot. They must select a chairperson and a deputy chairperson. It must regularly assemble to discuss current issues in the organization. These should take place during working hours as much as possible. The Works Council is also entitled to a place to hold their meeting and use office supplies and infrastructure.
It is also to meet regularly with the directie, these are the people in charge of the significant decisions of the organization. This can include the board of directors and/or human resources. The primary function is to include the employees in the organisation’s decision-making. It can propose agenda points for the directie and make inquiries that must be answered. Also, it allows for concerns to be brought up regularly without repercussion, as a member of the Works Council may not be fired because of their role on the council. Furthermore, legal protections exist for anyone who wants to even run to be elected. They may not be disadvantaged or fired because of this.
A Works Council also has certain rights
- Right to information, It may ask for any information regarding legal structure, business plan, data, annual reports, etc.
- Right to advice, if the organization has a financial plan or proposal, the Works Council has to advise.
- The right of consent relates to any significant changes that the directie would like to implement. This includes and is not limited to pensions, profit sharing, sick leave, firing, and benefits.
The Works Council and the directie can make agreements that go beyond those required by law. For example, giving a more significant say or extra rights to the Works Council. If the Works Council feels that the directie is not cooperating, they can go before a Sub-district court. This is also true of employees who feel mistreated for their involvement in running for or working in the Works Council.
How to get involved in a Works Council?
The last and most important question is how can you get involved?
Firstly, it’s important to know how large the organization is and whether it already has a work Council. If it doesn’t, then your best bet is to discuss it with your colleagues and work on setting one up.
If it does, the best thing to do would be to see if you’re eligible to vote. This depends on your contract and how long you have been employed. If you are a permanent employee, then after 3 months, you may stand for election and vote. If you’re a temporary agent, you must wait 18 months. Look at this if you want to know more about different contracts in the Netherlands.
On the whole, Works Councils are a right for workers in the Netherlands to be more involved with the goings on at the organizations they work for. For example, creating more agency for employees at their companies and ensuring they are not the last to know if there will be any changes to their contracts or working conditions. Even better, it gives them a say in these matters. And even in organizations that do not need to set up a Works Council, there are legal protections that ensure a basic level of information and involvement of employees in their places of work.