SAP gives in to workers’ council

SAP AG’s resistance to the establishment of a workers’ council will end Thursday when employees of the German business software company will vote on a committee to organize the election of 37 employee representatives.

“There will be a workers’ council, that’s inevitable,” said company spokesman Tony Roddham. “It’s now a case of who do you want to be on the council — employees who represent the heart and spirit of SAP or those backed by the union.”

Employees will elect representatives in an election expected sometime next month, Roddham said.

SAP Chief Executive Officer Henning Kagermann and Hasso Plattner, chairman of the supervisory board, have been forced to deal with the establishment of a workers’ council, something both men oppose, ever since three union members employed by SAP demanded such a body earlier this month, and took the issue to a German court.

After evaluating the legal situation in Germany, management at SAP has since chosen to support a decision by eight employee representatives, currently on the company’s supervisory board, to organize a workers’ council election themselves.

“If SAP is to have a workers’ council, then it should be a works council that is representative of the heart of the company,” Kagermann said in a statement March 14. “We have a duty to maintain our unique company culture and values.”

The move to establish a workers’ council ahead of the court ruling will make the court’s decision redundant, according to Roddham.

With more than 10,000 employees at its headquarters in Walldorf and a nearby office complex in St. Leon-Rot, SAP is one of the largest German companies to be without a workers council.

In early March, of the 5,632 employees who attended a meeting to vote on a workers’ council, only 509 voted in favor, however.

At a news conference at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany, Kagermann said he thought that in a democracy, when 91 percent of the people vote against something, the remaining 9 percent would have to accept the decision.

Co-founder Plattner has questioned the necessity of a union in a company that employs more than 80 percent academics and clings to its “start-up” environment.

In an earlier e-mail to employees, Plattner praised the “unique company culture” that has allowed conflicts of any type to be discussed and solved “during the late nights, on weekends, over beer and on the soccer field.” The supporting pillars to the company’s success, he said, “have remained fairness, openness and a healthy dose of common sense.”

Plattner argued that “the future holds more important issues” than implementing the monitoring of mandatory working hours and regulating times for communication with the U.S., China and India.

The fact that SAP will now have a workers’ council, however, reflects the enduring power of organized labor in Germany, despite declining membership in unions such as IG Metall, the German electronics and metal workers’ union.

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