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Workplace Representation

The right to participation in the enterprise has existed only since the introduction of the Workers’ Participation Act (Mitwirkungsgesetz) in 1993. This, to some extent, represents an adaptation to European law. Employees in principle have a right to information and consultation. In enterprises with at least 50 employees there is also a right to employee representation. This is independent of the trade union. As a rule, however, at least some of the employee representatives are members of a trade union and/or advised by trade unions.

The initiative for forming an employee representative body must be taken by the employees. In particular, larger enterprises in industry and the financial sector have staff representatives. In trade and services and in SMEs this is the exception.

Tasks and rights

The rights and, therefore, the influence of employee representative bodies are less than in most other European countries. In particular, in Switzerland there is no right to industry-wide representation (at enterprise or group level). Different collective agreements grant rights to employee representative bodies that go beyond what is provided for by the law, however.


According to the law, employee representative bodies have the right to timely and comprehensive information about all matters knowledge of which is necessary for the proper performance of their duties. The employer must inform the employee representative body at least once a year about the effects of business developments on employment and the employees.

Special information and consultation rights apply in the case of collective redundancies, divestments and mergers. They correspond approximately to the minimum requirements of the corresponding EU directives. Likewise for matters of occupational safety and health and pension provisions (company pension funds).

In collective agreements, company representative bodies can be granted competences for wage negotiations (see above).

Elections and Term of Office

If one-fifth or, in larger enterprises, at least 100 employees demand it, a vote must be held on whether there should be an employee representative body. If a majority of the voters are in favour, elections must be held. Election and vote are carried out by the ‘employer and employee sides together’. There is no statutory role for the trade union in this context.

The size of the employee representative body will also be laid down jointly, taking into account the size and structure of the company. The employee representative body must consist of at least three persons.

The term of office is not laid down in the law.

Protection against dismissal

Members of the employee representative body may ‘not be discriminated against’ by the employer during or subsequent to the exercise of their mandate. There is no special protection against dismissal. There are only the general provisions of the law in relation to unfair dismissal.

The ILO – based on Convention No. 96 – reprimanded the Swiss government with regard to the fact that there is no stronger protection of trade union and employee representatives. Because the Swiss government recently rejected an improvement, the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (SGB) resubmitted a 2012 complaint at the ILO.

Time off and other resources

Employee representatives can carry out their duties during working hours ‘if the task requires it and their work permits it’. There are no other provisions on release from work. The employer is also not obliged to provide resources. More extensive rights are laid down in some big collective agreements.

Representation at group level

The law applies only to establishment level. Coordination of employee representatives at enterprise or group level – if there is any – is carried out by the trade unions. Only a few big collective agreements in industry provide for representation above establishment level.

Hans Baumann (2014) for worker-participation.eu