SAP employees vote against workers' council

Workers' councils, union-influenced representative bodies, are common in Germany but attempts to establish one at SAP have aroused controversy. John Blau reports

Employees at SAP's headquarters in Walldorf, Germany have voted against establishing a workers' council.

Of the 5,632 employees who attended the meeting, only 509 voted in favor of a workers council, says SAP spokesman Tony Roddam. "This means that 91% of the employees at the meeting voted against a workers council," he says.

Several factors could have influenced the vote. One was that employees at the meeting could have been swayed by the strong words of SAP cofounder and major shareholder Dietmar Hopp, who earlier warned of a possible relocation of the headquarters if a workers' council was approved.

The vote was the first step in a process of setting up an election committee, which would then compile a list of candidates for the wokers council, according to Roddam. Workers' councils are common in German workplaces and SAP is one of the largest German firms not to have one.

Under German labour laws, employees in companies and organisations of an established size are allowed to establish workers councils.

The push to establish a workers council at SAP is being led by three employees who are members of IG Metall, the German electronics and metal workers' union..

Earlier this month, Hopp expressed strong reservations about the influence of IG Metall. One of his key concerns is the union's rigid position on working hours. "If you need to ask the union whether you can stay to make a call to California at 11 p.m., then good night SAP," he said.

Hopp, who no longer holds an executive position at SAP, owns 10% of the company's stock.

Earlier attempts to establish such a representative body have failed, lacking majority support from SAP employees.

Currently, SAP employees are represented by eight employee representatives who are elected to the company's supervisory board, in line with German legal requirements, according to Hartmann. These representatives represent SAP's worldwide workforce of nearly 36,000 people.

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