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Sunday, 18 September 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

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 organisational growth.


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 Europe.

“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 power.

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 organisations.



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