Top SAP executives oppose workers' council

Chairman Hasso Plattner expresses concern over impact union would have on SAP's 'start-up culture'

The heads of SAP AG's management and supervisory boards have voiced their reservations about the establishment of a workers' council, following similar remarks made over the past two weeks by cofounder Dietmar Hopp.

Hasso Plattner, chairman of the supervisory board, is concerned about the impact a labor union-driven workers' council could have on the German software company's "start-up" culture, according to an internal e-mail that the executive distributed last week to SAP employees, of which IDG News Service obtained a copy.

Also last week, during a news conference at the Cebit trade show, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Heninng Kagermann said the management board has a responsibility to meet the demands of a majority of employees -- 91 percent -- who have voted against a workers' council, and is currently evaluating all possibilities.

Three IG Metall union employees at SAP AG have turned to a German court to help win support for the establishment of a workers' council after most employees voted against the idea at a meeting March 2. A petition to install an election committee for selecting candidates for a workers' council has been lodged with the Mannheim Labor Court, which is scheduled to announce a ruling on April 11.

In his e-mail to employees, Plattner -- who like Hopp is an SAP co-founder and major shareholder -- 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."

After becoming a publicly traded company, SAP formalized its employee representation, according to Plattner. Employee representatives are elected to the SAP supervisory board and, in addition to their obligations on this committee, perform the functions of a workers' council for employees in Germany, he said.

"With all due respect to protecting the rights of the minority, I truly cannot understand a vote that supports a 9 percent minority over a majority vote," Plattner said.

SAP is the largest company in Germany to be without a workers' council

The Germany's Workers' Council Constitution Act, which supports the establishment of an employee representation body, was established at a time when "globalization was either an unknown concept or regarded predominately as a derogative term," Plattner said. In some areas, SAP has aligned itself to the Act, "but there are some areas that simply do not fit a global high-tech company with more than 80 percent of its employees being college graduates," he added.

Plattner argues that "the future holds more important issues" than implementing the monitoring of mandatory working hours and regulating times for communication with the United States, China and India.

"Our competitors come from the United States and, in the future, from Asia as well," he said. "We must achieve similar levels of profitability as Microsoft, Oracle or Google."

And despite the relative size and success of SAP, the company must continue to "recreate itself again and again," he added.

"These are areas of concern at SAP that have direct impact on employees," Plattner said. "Now it is up to us to create an employee representation at SAP in such a way that we can focus out attention on real business issues and not these pseudo battles."