Work council under Dutch law

In the Netherlands a works council (in Dutch: ondernemingsraad) is a support structure for employee participation within a business that is built to protect and promote an employee’s position in the company. Under Dutch law, such a body’s existence can be a strict requirement in a business depending on the number of current employees. As a foreign worker or entrepreneur in the Netherlands it is important to be aware of the legal necessities of safeguarding employee’s rights and their participation, which is rooted in this requirement.

When is a works council legally required in The Netherlands?

If your business employs at least 50 workers, then you must establish a works council in accordance with the Work Councils Act (WCA). If you have more than a single branch, you will need additional works councils in each of the subsequent offices that exceed this 50 employees threshold. However, a joint works council can be created if the branches employ more than 50 people collectively but less than 50 individually.

A company that employs less than 50 people is under no obligation to form a works council. Instead, a voluntarily council can be formed by the employees, or a representative body (in Dutch: personeelsvertegenwoordiging, PVT) can be created. This type of body would not hold the same powers as a legally implemented works council nor would it entail the same obligations. The employees can still exercise rights to consultation, which must be accomplished by holding staff meetings.

Purpose of a works council in The Netherlands

The works council acts to ensure employee participation in both the daily operation of a company and the decision making for the company’s future direction. The purpose of such a council is to benefit both the employer and employees, through both representation in the workplace and a having a forum in which constructive feedback can allow the business to progress. In the Netherlands, the works council must be convened at least twice a year and take place within working hours. The members of the works council are also entitled to schedule their own meetings within working hours.

The main right of the works council:

  • Right to be consulted (article 25 WCA): when an important decision is proposed that will substantially affect the company;
  • Right of consent (article 27 WCA): concerning substantial changes in the terms of the employment conditions.

If an employer makes a decision that is not in accordance with the advice of the Works Council, the Works Council can lodge an appeal against that decision with the Enterprise Chamber of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal.

A decision that requires consent and for which no consent has been given (or for which no substitute consent has been given by the subdistrict court) is null and void.

For questions concerning the works council and its role within the company, please contact the employment law attorneys of Blenheim here