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Fig. 1. Awarding of the special prize to the RAG works councils in the former plenary hall of the German Bundestag. // Bild 1. Verleihung des Sonderpreises an die RAG-Betriebsräte im ehemaligen Plenarsaal des Deutschen Bundestags. Photo/Foto: RAG

German Works Councils’ Prize: Distinction for a centennial project

The works councils of RAG Aktiengesellschaft, Essen/Germany, and the social partners of the company were the recipients of a special honour at the most recent award ceremony for the German Works Councils’ Prize in Bonn. On the occasion of the annual Conference of German Works Councils, they were presented with a special prize that was awarded for the first time by a professional jury for the “outstanding organisation of structural change” within the German coal mining industry (Figure 1).

Gripping, captivating and highly emotional: These words and many more sum up the unique moments that played out in the former plenary hall of the German Bundestag. Despite the event lasting many hours, the venue was fully packed, with most guests having to stand to watch the award ceremony. All eyes were on the centre of the hall.

Here, past and present members of the RAG works councils as well as leading representatives of the company stood shoulder to shoulder. These included Barbara Schlüter, current chair of the General Works Council; Peter Schrimpf, chairman of the RAG executive board; Ludwig Ladzinski and Norbert Maus, former chairs of the General Works Council; and many other delegates from the company’s participative management. In addition, the representatives were accompanied by the region’s Ruhrkohle Choir. In the course of practically unending applause, the public congratulated the efforts that had been made throughout the phasing-out process of the coal mining industry. As moderator Eva-Maria Stopp-kotte put it, it was a round of ovations for a “unique centennial project”.

“You have all done a tremendous job,” exclaimed Karin Erhard, member of the executive board for the IG BCE trade union for mining, chemicals and energy, in her laudatory speech to the recipients of the award. She remarked that the struggle for social sustainability had been a collaborative effort, and it was now her pleasure to award the special prize, which she placed on par with an Oscar.

Schlüter, who accepted the prize on behalf of all works councils, spoke of a “substantial joint accomplishment”. She expressed significant gratitude to all those who had been involved, remarking that it was an honour to accept the award and that it filled her with great pride. In her speech, she also conveyed her hope that the socially responsible structural change in the German coal mining industry would also be able to serve as an example for other companies and sectors.

Tribute was also paid by Schrimpf, who remarked: “I take my hat off to our works councils.” He emphasised that they had consistently upheld their duty of co-determination and shared responsibility, and continued to provide their support even in the face of unpleasant decisions such as site closures. As Schrimpf highlighted, the welfare of everyone had always remained the focus of the works councils’ activities.

The German Works Councils’ Prize is an initiative on the part of the renowned trade publication „Arbeitsrecht im Betrieb“ (“Employment Law in Business”). Since 2009, it has honoured the commitment and successful work of works councils that have made a long-term dedication to preserving or creating workplaces or improving working conditions in companies. A highly esteemed appointed jury, which is comprised of trade union representatives as well as scientists and practitioners, makes an annual selection from an ever growing number of submitted projects. (RAG/Si.)