Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - Germany

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Germany, 31 August 2010, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The system of protections for workers' rights and workplace conditions in Germany ranks among the strongest in the world. Freedom of association is protected in law and in practice, the majority of employees are covered by collective-bargaining agreements, and unions play an important role in the country's democracy.

Freedom of association is guaranteed by the Basic Law, the postwar constitution adopted in May 1949. The most important sources of labor rules are federal legislation, collective-bargaining agreements, works agreements, and case law. Well over half of German employees are covered by collective-bargaining agreements, and some 22 percent still belong to unions despite a steady decline in recent decades. While collective bargaining remains robust, the difficult economic environment has led unions to make concessions on pay and benefits in return for guarantees against mass layoffs.

German law strongly regulates conditions of employment, working hours, and similar workplace issues. Workers have legal protection from dismissal for reasons other than the economic needs of the employer. German laws are also among Europe's most generous in mandating holidays, maternity leave, and other benefits.

Strikes and lockouts are allowed in law and in practice. There are prohibitions against strikes during the term of a collective-bargaining agreement as well as strikes for political reasons. Although German law does not mandate arbitration procedures prior to a strike, unions and employers usually agree to arbitration before an industrial action takes place. Civil servants are prohibited from striking.

In large enterprises, workers are able to participate in decision-making through works councils, which are responsible for implementing the terms of collective-bargaining agreements. Through Germany's unique co-determination system, workers are given a say on overall company policy through representation on supervisory boards. In practice, worker influence on corporate policy is limited, as the majority of board members come from management.

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