Navigating success: How to negotiate with German Works Councils about IT Systems

In German companies, the works council plays a significant role in approving IT applications and systems. Employers must submit detailed applications to the works council, including information on the application’s impact on employees and working conditions. The works council reviews the application, may seek additional information, and has the authority to refuse approval if it believes employee rights or working conditions are compromised.

The IT approval process applies not only to new applications but also to changes in existing systems that affect employees. The process involves early involvement of the works council, information exchange, negotiations on usage terms, and the possibility of drafting individual or collective IT agreements. In case of disagreements, the negotiation may escalate to an Agreement Board with an external arbitrator. Additionally, existing IT systems may require negotiations with the works council when the council is established or when major changes occur.

It is emphasized that decommissioning a system does not require informing the works council, but discussions with the council often occur due to the practical reality of replacing old systems with new ones.

Introduction

In German companies, IT applications and systems often have to be approved by the works council. The works council has the right to co-determine the introduction of IT systems and must be informed and consulted before implementation.

To obtain approval of IT applications by the works council, the employer must submit an application and provide a detailed description of the application. The application should also include a description of the impact on employees and working conditions.

The works council reviews the application and may request additional information or a statement from the employer before making a decision. The works council may refuse approval if it believes that the application violates the rights of employees or negatively affects working conditions.

It is important to note that the IT approval process applies not only to new applications, but also to changes to existing systems. If changes are made to an IT system that affect employees, the employer must submit a new application for approval.

Overall, the IT approval process helps ensure that the interests of employees are taken into account when introducing new IT systems in German companies.

General Process

The following diagram shows a high level overview of typical steps leading to an approval of an IT System by the Workers Council.

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(1) Ideally you should involve the Workers Council as early as possible in the IT System Lifecycle. Doing this in writing is not mandatory but will also keep a record of what information was provided when to whom. A simple meeting can also do the job but again keeping meeting minutes avoids unnecessary misunderstandings.

In most companies with established Workers Councils both sides may have already agreed to use specific forms (similar to my recommended IT Application Checklist). So use those documents if available.

(2) The Workers Council reviews your information about the system or application. Most probably they will raise questions to clarify certain aspects of the IT System or its intended usage. These might be technical or functional questions about the application itself but is not limited to this. The Workers Council might also ask questions about Data Privacy matters, ergonomics, user experience, support or business processes.

(3) After exchanging information both parties start negotiating about to what degree the use of an application or system is restricted or regulated. After some time both parties agree on the terms and conditions for using the IT System or Application.

This step under normal conditions has two outcomes:

  • An individual Works Agreement / Collective Agreement IT Agreement for the IT System is drafted, negotiated and executed
  • The system is approved and added to the addendum of an existing IT Framework Agreement

At this stage it might be that you cannot agree with your Workers Council about all regulations for an application or system. In this case your negotiation will be transferred to a higher body the so called Agreement Board. At this point the negotiation will be settled by an external and neutral arbitrator who will preside over the Agreement Board.

(4) Important for existing IT Systems: In some companies the Workers Council is founded at a stage where a number of IT applications are already in use. The Workers Council has the right to codetermine their usage as well. So working on a framework agreement for IT Systems is one of the first large negotiations after a Workers Council has been established the first time in a company.

(5) Also note that you do not have to inform the GWOC if you plan to decomission a system or application. However in IT`s practical reality old systems are retiring and being replaced by new ones, so you will be discussing sunsetting systems with the GWOC at some point anyways.

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