Trade Unions 1

What are the Definition of Trade Unions? Part I


Similar to works councils, trade unions are designed to advocate for the well-being of workers. Nevertheless, the works council and trade union are far from being identical. You can find out everything you need to know about trade unions here:

What is a union?

According to, a union is a permanent association of employees. This is designed to represent the economic, cultural and social interests of employees.

Legal foundations of trade unions

The lawful freedom to form associations is anchored in Article 9 (3) of the Basic Law. The above-mentioned associations pursue the goal of looking after the interests of the world of work. The law uses the term freedom of association in this context.


Further bases for the formation of such organizations can be found in the Collective Bargaining Act. According to Section 2 of the Collective Bargaining Act, only employers and trade unions are entitled to meet collective bargaining requirements. Negotiations and the conclusion of collective agreements are therefore possible without exception between these two parties.

Historical development of this employee representation

Today’s trade unions go back to a tradition of around 150 years. You can find a summary of the formation of trade unions and their history here:

Year Event
1848-1849 During the revolution, the first trade unions emerged at the national level
1880 Trade unions have become permanently established after political restrictions for associations oriented towards social democracy were relaxed
1918 Organizational development during the Weimar Republic and consolidation until the beginning of the global economic crisis
1933 Dissolution of independent trade unions through National Socialism
1945 Founding of unified trade unions in all zones of occupation, establishment of the Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB) in the Soviet zone of occupation with a centralized organization
1949 Creation of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB) from a single trade union in western zones
2001 Establishment of the Verdi union

What are the characteristics of a union?

Membership in a union is always voluntary. However, in order for trade unions to be recognized as such before the law, the following criteria must be met:

General requirements

As already mentioned, the desired grouping of interests must in any case take place on a voluntary basis. It must be ensured that the union is set up for a certain period of time. In addition, it must be ensured that the maintenance and promotion of working and economic conditions corresponds to the statutory purpose. Another characteristic of trade unions is that they are financially, personally and organisationally independent of third parties. The named third parties include:

  • Country
  • Parties
  • Churches

In addition, trade unions are always free of opponents. This means that it is impossible for you as an employer to become a member. Furthermore, trade unions are democratically organized and obtain their legitimation through elections and the participation of their members.

Collective bargaining requirements

In order for trade unions to be officially recognized, it is particularly important that they are eligible for collective bargaining. Tariff eligibility exists as soon as the following three criteria are met:

1. Social importance:

In order for a union to be able to implement the planned interests, it must be characterized by a high degree of assertiveness. Only then will the acting partner take their intentions seriously. The more union members are represented, the greater the influence of the respective organization. In addition, the willingness to participate in industrial action is part of the profile of an established trade union.

2. Willingness to pay a collective agreement

One of the most important requirements for successful trade union work is the will and the ability to negotiate on all working conditions of employees and to achieve the desired conclusion. It is important that all areas of an employment relationship are comprehensively covered.

3. Assertiveness

An indispensable prerequisite for successful trade union work is the willingness to negotiate collectively. If necessary, this also includes the enforcement of intended claims with the help of strikes.

What are the tasks of a union?

Unions are primarily designed to create better working conditions for the workforce in your industry. This includes, among other things, improving the say for employees of the respective company. Typical tasks of a union include:

  • Conclusion of inter-company collective agreements with employers’ associations
  • Regulation of working conditions (e.g. wages, working hours, vacation)
  • Advising employees on all aspects of labor law
  • Checking employment contracts with regard to their legality
  • free legal protection for union members

As an employer, what measures can you take against union strikes?

If unions call for a strike, this can mean a significant loss of employees for your company. This quickly leads to high economic losses. However, as an entrepreneur, you do not have to endure such a measure.


If the strike is illegal, you can assert injunctive relief and claims for damages against unions, officials and employees. These are enforceable as a lawsuit or injunction.

A legal strike, on the other hand, leads to the rights and obligations of an existing employment relationship being paused on both sides. The only exceptions to this are the rights and obligations arising from maintenance or emergency work. This includes, for example, activities that are necessary to supply the population. It must also be ensured that the functionality of your equipment does not come to a standstill. Strikes must never cause significant economic damage to your company or endanger your existence. You can specifically counter a strike with these measures:

Lockout (= exclusion of employees without continued pay) Continued employment (= strike work) Public relation Closure of individual areas
Rarely found in practice, as there are great legal uncertainties Employees should be encouraged to work through better pay (strike break bonuses) Written information about the consequences of the strike on your employees Either shutdown of the area on strike or individual areas that are not subject to industrial action
Possible by one or more employers Employment opportunities remain untapped
Locking out individual groups is not permitted

Trade Unions 1