SAP employees in Germany vote against workers' council

Vote may have been swayed by SAP cofounder who warned of possible relocation if council were approved

Employees at SAP's German headquarters voted late Thursday evening against establishing a workers' council.

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

The vote could have turned out this way for several reasons.

Employees at the meeting could have been swayed by the strong words of SAP cofounder and major shareholder Dietmar Hopp who earlier in the week warned of a possible relocation of the headquarters if a workers' council were approved. Or maybe they just like the start-up mentality of the German business software company, which closely links its management team with staff.

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 new representative body, according to Roddam.

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.

On its German-language Web site, IG Metall said that nearly every tenth employee attending the meeting voted in favor of the body. "We view this as a respectable minority," the statement said.

Whether or not the union will take up the issue with a German court remains to be seen. Under German labor laws, employees in companies and organizations of an established size are allowed to establish workers councils.

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.

On Tuesday, SAP cofounder 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 percent 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.