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Employee workplace representation in Belgium: effects on firm performance

Annette van den Berg (School of Economics, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Arjen van Witteloostuijn (School of Economics and Management, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands) (Faculty of Applied Economics, Antwerp University, Antwerp, Belgium) (Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)
Olivier Van der Brempt (Faculty of Applied Economics, Antwerp University, Antwerp, The Netherlands) (GUBERNA (Belgian Institute of Directors), Brussels, Belgium)

International Journal of Manpower

ISSN: 0143-7720

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to examine whether works councils (WCs) in Belgium have a positive effect on firm performance, notably productivity and profitability, while taking the role of trade unions into account.


The authors first introduce the typical Belgian industrial relations system, discussing the similarities and differences with neighboring countries. This is followed by a brief overview of the relevant literature. Subsequently, the impact of Belgian employee representation on firm performance is estimated by means of OLS, using a newly developed questionnaire administered among Belgian CEOs. Special attention is given to moderating and mediating effects.


The authors find that Belgian WCs have a small (direct) significantly positive effect on labor productivity, but not on profitability. The additional results of the mediation test show tentatively that WCs might affect profitability indirectly, through their impact on productivity. Despite trade unions’ dominance in practice, the findings reveal that their impact is insignificant.

Research limitations/implications

Although nationwide, rich and representative, as well as statistically valid, the data set is rather small (196 usable observations). The data set offers ample opportunities to further explore what makes effective Belgian WCs different from their non-effective counterparts.


The data set is unique, and combines subjective CEO with objective performance data. The data offer the opportunity to do a first study into the special case of Belgium, which has a distinct union-dominated IR regime. In this study, the focus is furthermore on the rarely studied WC-trade union interaction. In addition, subtle moderation and mediation effects are estimated.



The authors are grateful for the helpful comments of the following colleagues: Rachel Ashworth, Christophe Boone, David Courpasson, Yolanda Grift, Julian Gould-Williams, Wolter Hassink, Suzanne Heijnen, Ann Jorissen, Adriaan Kalwij, Mark Kattenberg, Gerwin van der Laan, Jonas De Maere, Joep Steegmans and Keith Whitfield. This paper is part of a larger project on “Effective governance in private organizations,” conducted by a research team from the University of Antwerp, the University of Ghent and the Brussels Free University. The authors gratefully acknowledge the government agency for Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT) of the Flemish government for financial support.


van den Berg, A., van Witteloostuijn, A. and Van der Brempt, O. (2017), "Employee workplace representation in Belgium: effects on firm performance", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 38 No. 2, pp. 130-144.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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