Workers’ Councils: much to be gained
Workers’ Councils are to be created shortly. This was revealed by the
National Languages and Social Integration Ministry recently. According
to Ministry sources, the concept of Workers’ Councils is introduced
aiming to promote productivity and efficiency in organisations.
In addition, organisations are expected to benefit from increasing
interrelationship and cooperation between workers, identifying drawbacks
and reducing frauds and corruption.
Workers participation in the management of their work lives is widely
regarded today as vital to the success of contemporary organisations.
Workers Councils are today regarded as one form of non-union employee
representation, widely acclaimed in Europe and receiving increasing
attention in USA.
Workers council is not a new concept. They exist with different names
in a variety of related forms in a number of European countries,
including Britain (Joint Consultative Committee); Germany and Austria
(Betriebsrat); Luxembourg (Comité Mixte); the Netherlands and Flanders
in Belgium (Ondernemingsraad); France (Comité d’Entreprise); Belgium
(Conseil d’Entreprise); and Spain (Comité de empresa).
There are three main views about why workers Councils primarily exist
: (1) to bridge the gaps that exist among different employee-layers, (2)
tap their expertise to shed light on issues from varied perspectives,
and (3) to arrive at consensual decisions on all matters of
institutional management and development. Workers’ Councils can also
help to create an environment of participative management.
One of the most successfull) implementations of workers Councils is
found in Germany. The model is based on two tiers.
The general labour agreements are made at the national level by
national unions and national employer associations. The local plants and
firms then meet with Workers Councils to adjust these national
agreements to local circumstances.
The system works harmoniously. A further development found in Germany
has been the appointment of Workers council representatives to the
Boards of Directors in organisations.
Similar to German model, European Workers Councils were created
partly as a response to increased transnational restructuring brought
about by the Single European Act.
They give representatives of workers from all European countries in
big multinational organisations a direct line of communication to top
management. They also make sure that workers in different countries are
all told the same thing at the same time about transnational policies
and plans. Lastly, they give workers’ representatives and national
Workers Councils the opportunity to consult with each other and to
develop a common European response to
employers’ transnational plans, which management must then consider
before those plans are implemented.
Some business analysts believe that there is a relationship between
workers’ Councils and Kaisen, the Japanese management concept. Kaisen
means in Japanese “improvement”, or “change for the better”. When used
in the management sense and applied to the workplace, kaisen refers to
activities that continually improve all functions, and involves all
employees from the CEO to the line workers. By improving standardised
activities and processes, kaisen aims to eliminate corruption and waste.
Kaisen is regarded as the single most important concept in Japanese
management – the key to Japanese competitive success.
The broad aim of workers Councils is also similar to Kaisen concept
when considered of its continuous improvement of an organisation by
establishing a harmonious rapport between different levels and
categories of employees. It also involves the responsible process of
analysis of information, reviewing and assisting in reaching consensual
decisions. It is, therefore, a mutual process of ensuring any
I was reading an article recently where the writer compares the
workers Councils to Genchi- Genbutsu concept. He is correct. Genchi-
Genbutsu in Japanese means “go and see” and it is a key principle of the
Toyota Production System. It suggests that in order to truly understand
a situation one needs to go to ‘gemba’ or, the ‘real place’ - where work
is done. For example, if the problem exists on the shop floor then it
needs to be understood and solved at the shop floor. Genchi-Genbutsu is
therefore a key approach in problem solving.
In reality, workers Councils are complement to the concept of
Genchi-Genbutsu. Workers problems can only be properly seen and solved
when their voices are heard, and listened to, at the highest level in
the organisation. Workers Councils serve that purpose.
Workers Councils also contribute towards teamwork. A challenge for
leaders of groups of people is to get everyone to pull together and
function as a team instead of going in separate directions. Considered
in this backdrop workers’ Councils are apt to be considered as a facet
of teams and teamwork.
In most parts of Europe, workers Councils have been in place for some
time within large organisations.
A top level Management Consultant, Iain Smith, explains of his
practical experience of seeing a Workers Council at work, based on
recent experience of consulting to a restructuring project in mainland
“The organisation in question employed a couple of thousand people
and had a Workers Council drawn from all parts of the company, numbering
about twenty people. Around six of these were drawn from the technical
function. In practice, the viewpoint of the six technical
representatives on the restructuring project was more or less
automatically ratified by the wider Workers Council. Throughout the
restructuring project fortnightly meetings were held with the six
technical representatives, and in a critical week daily meetings
(lasting 15 minutes) were held. Major staff communications were released
to the team of six first. These often gave them prior warning of (say)
impending senior management appointments, something that in many UK
environments would not be normal.
There is no sign that the members of the Workers Council acted
anything other than responsibly when confided into this level. They did
critique the proposals, and their input was generally constructive. On
the negative side, this took time, added several working days to the
time taken to communicate, and made the project management even more
demanding than usual!
What is interesting for me about this is that the Workers Council
system worked because the representatives bore the interests of the
company as well as the people in mind. I would be less optimistic about
the Workers Council system where the representatives had a different
mindset, for example where they wanted mainly to exercise personal
Another reason why this worked was because the Chief Technology
Officer worked hard to explain the business rationale - and the positive
impact that the project had upon people and employment. Shared
objectives were thus established in all minds”.
This explanation gives us lot of food for thought. The small-print of
any proposals for Sri Lanka relating to the creation of workers Councils
will have to be examined to see how representatives are selected. Having
people with the right mindset - and that does not necessarily mean a
compliant mindset - on a workers council can really help the
institution. And, of course, making it work will also require excellent
communications skills and people- orientation on the part of the top
management. These are lessons already learned in our country in the
foregone days - somewhat painfully - so although workers Councils will
pose a major challenge to our organisations I do not feel that the
challenge cannot be met by competent business leaders.
Workers Councils empower employees. There is so much to be gained and
nothing to lose from the introduction of a workers council concept in
Sri Lanka. They will change the face of industrial relations in our
country and will offer workers a significant say in the running of