Previous Article Next Article Be prepared, not afraidOn 1 Mar 2002 in Personnel Today TheEuropean Directive on Information and Consultation, which was ratified lastmonth, has far-reaching implications for employee relations. Here, TheInvolvement and Participation Association offers guidelines for putting inplace an effective consultative framework. By Robert StevensIn three years time, the Directive on Information and Consultation will bewritten into the rights of people at work in the UK. Employers should see it asmore than an exercise in compliance. It offers the opportunity to buildeffective processes jointly with employees, leading to better forward planningand decision making. Having a committed and productive workforce is supportedby a very real business case. The final draft of the directive was agreed on 17 December 2001 at a meetingbetween representatives of the European Parliament and the Council ofMinisters. The agreement, now widely known as the National Works CouncilDirective, will create a general framework for employees to be informed on”the recent and probable development of the undertaking or establishment’sactivities and economic situation”. For the first time in the UK it means that every employee will have thelegal right to independent representation for the purposes of information andconsultation, with or without the presence of a recognised union. The Department of Trade and Industry is to consult widely about thedirective’s implementation. Phased implementation Member states may choose whether to apply the directive to eitherundertakings employing at least 50 employees or establishments employing at least20 employees. It is likely that the UK will choose the first, less burdensomeoption. Undertaking means any public or private entity that carries out aneconomic activity, irrespective of whether it operates for financial gain. The directive will only apply initially to undertakings with at least 150employees in the UK as from 2005. Undertakings with at least 100 employees willbe covered in 2007 and undertakings with at least 50 employees a year later. Confusion over terminology Much of the fear surrounding the Directive comes from confusion overterminology. First, disclosure to employees of relevant information bymanagement is essentially a top-down exercise. Relevant information should bemade available before a decision is taken and in such a way that employeerepresentatives are able to “acquaint themselves with the subjectmatter” and formulate a response. Second, consultation refers to “the exchange of views and establishmentof dialogue”. Consultation should commence with an open mind and takeplace “during the planning stage of a decision” in such a way as to”allow influence to be exerted on the decision-making process”. The directive does not oblige employers to adopt the evidence presented byemployee representatives, although they will have to provide a reasonedresponse. Employees will have the right to be informed and consulted on the situation,structure and probable development of employment within the undertaking andenvisaged measures that might pose a threat to employment. It also applies todecisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation andcontractual arrangements. Consultation should seek to reach consensus, if not a formal agreement. Itshould be noted that the directive does not supersede previous UK employmentlegislation, or current or future union recognition or collective bargainingarrangements. Shape of the framework HR practitioners should take the opportunity between now and 2005 to agree arrangementsbest suited to their own circumstances. Far from being a prescriptive “onesize fits all” model, the directive offers a broad framework for practicalinformation sharing and consultation. It emphasises that this should be”in accordance with national law and industrial relations practices”.In July last year IPA published a report, Sharing the challenge ahead:informing and consulting with your workforce, which gives practical advice oncreating an effective consultative framework. The report also offered aninformation and consultation audit based on the IPA’s experience of workingwith more than 100 organisations in the private, voluntary and public sectors,both unionised and non-unionised. The audit posed 12 questions to ensure goodpractice in setting up a framework. – Are the objectives of information and consultation clearly defined? – Is there a shared understanding of the objectives? – Is the role of top managers defined? – Is the role of the representative clearly defined? – Are the arrangements for information disclosure appropriate? – Is the process of consultation appropriate? – Are consultative meetings effective? – Is there effective feedback from consultative meetings? – Is there effective training and development for consultation? – Are there clear links to other communication activities? – Is there a strong culture of dialogue in the organisation? – Is there a regular process of review and evaluations? Structures and processes Critics often argue that the directive places too much emphasis on thestructures and processes of information and not enough on culture change. TheIPA’s experience is clear: structures and processes are necessary for effectiveinformation and consultation, otherwise too much depends on personalities. Organisations can choose from a range of information and consultationmechanisms, some of which may already be in place and reflecting specificactivity, location, culture and size. Information disclosure channels mayinclude face-to-face and written (electronic or paper) although the final draftstrongly suggests that consultation information should be provided in writtenform. Consultation can be direct or indirect. Consultation groups may operatetemporarily or as a permanent body. The IPA has found that both direct andindirect forms of consultation are complementary and mutually reinforcing, notincompatible. In larger organisations it is common to find consultative arrangements atboth local (workplace or business unit) and national level. An exclusivereliance on indirect representation makes little sense if the aim is toincrease individual involvement. Equally, direct representation alone isunlikely to maximise employee input or support a free and frank exchange ofviews. Developing a positive culture Most organisations already have an information and consultation culture.Sharing information widely and enabling the workforce to contribute effectivelyare important issues for employers and these need to be sustained by a range ofjoint problem-solving techniques supported by appropriate performancemanagement, human resource practices and representative training. Developing apositive information and consultation culture will require a long-termcommitment to joint working in order to elicit commitment from the workforce tothe prosperity of the organisation. While this debate has centred on the employer’s right to dismiss employees,perhaps a better question would be how employers can motivate employees toexercise their right to participate in workplace decision-making. Sainsbury’s: setting up a local staff councilA little over a year ago, Sainsbury’sagreed to the election of staff representatives to its existing network oflocal councils and the group council. Prospective candidates need only secureone colleague to second the application and inform their immediate linemanager. Elections take place where required. Representatives receive trainingand the additional duties are recognised in their performance reviews.Each local council allows for 15 elected members, plus threenon-elected members (the chairperson, a secretary and one union official). Atindividual store or depot level the chairperson is likely to be the manager.For central divisions a director is always the chairperson, with HR providingthe secretary. The local councils meet at least once every two months andappoint one member to the Group Council, which meets annually.The local councils discuss performance, local competition,equal opportunities, changes in working practices and rules, businessinitiatives, company performance and suggestions for improvement. The councilis not a negotiating body and representatives on the group council are requiredto sign an agreement not to share confidential information. The role of local staff councils is to give employees a forumfor their views and make a greater contribution to the success of the business.Indeed, Sainsbury’s has identified a link between high performance and storesthat have an active council.Blue Circle Cement: managingchange through joint consultationIn 1990 Blue Circle Cement enteredinto an agreement with the AEEU, T&G, GMB, and BCSA (British Cement StaffAssociation) on the introduction of annual salaries, annualised hours and asimplified pay grading structure. It established a precedent for collaborativejoint problem-solving.Initial discussions identified contentious issues forresolution by a newly formed Company Wide Action Team (CWAT), comprising shopstewards from each site, site managers and senior management representatives.Three sub-groups looked at pay, voluntary redundancies, and harmonisation and,despite two waves of compulsory redundancies in 1993 and 1995, this jointworking resulted in a formal partnership agreement two years later.Blue Circle Cement signed the Way Ahead partnership agreementin 1997, which included a three-year pay deal at rpi plus 0.25 per cent,commitment to a shorter working week, team working, and harmonisation of termsand conditions, with progression within salary bands linked to skillsacquisition.Local Action Teams were also set up between local unionrepresentatives and management to deal with local difficulties and report toCWAT. CWAT acts as the custodian of the agreement, meeting nine times a year,considering all proposed changes, and setting up sub-groups to deal withspecific projects. In 1998 Blue Circle had to close two small plants with the lossof 250 jobs. It invited CWAT to develop ways to lessen the impact on theindividuals involved. Meetings were held at both sites to allow employees toraise their concerns and a programme was developed to accommodate those whowished to stay with the organisation.Training was increased to allow all employees to develop computerskills and update their qualifications. Consultants were engaged to provideadvice on CVs and interview technique, and local employers were invited torecruit from within the workforce. The result was that when the works closedonly 13 people signed on as unemployed.The company was taken over by French rivals LaFarge in 2001,which agreed in a meeting of the European Works Council not to tamper with thevalued and effective partnership relations at the UK plants. Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed.