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Consultation policy will only work if there is flexibility


Years of delicate negotiations and horse-trading led to the recent signing of the new EU directive on information and consultation rights. What will it mean in practice for UK managers? Should they be worried about it? Stefan Stern sought three informed views

Patrick Burns, director of policy, The Industrial Society

The implementation of this directive is important and good for the economy. There is a basic need for employers to consult with their workforces. Consultation has been shown to improve the way people work and can increase productivity.

The opposition to some proposed legislation in the past has been overdone. This regulation is, if you like, a question of getting the balance right between enterprise and fairness. It is right that people should find out about the things that are going to affect them at work earlier than they do now.

We are concerned that in implementation two things could go wrong. We do not need a one-size-fits-all policy. There is good practice out there already that others can learn from. Consultation is not going to be a shock for many successful organisations.

The second issue is for both sides of industry to play a more constructive role before implementation, saying what they are in favour of rather than just what they oppose. Proposals could be effectively road-tested before implementation. We think Acas should have a role in this as well.

John Monks, general secretary of the TUC

This potentially opens the door on a whole new era in UK employment relations. There is a good business case for involving the workforce actively in decision-making and in developing appropriate and effective management systems. Effective consultation helps to enhance competitive performance, because employees who are being consulted are far more likely to support management plans.

The TUC is a great admirer of the social partnership model of employment relations practised in a number of other EU states. It would make the implementation of this and so many pieces of EU legislation much easier if such an approach were to be actively supported by the UK government.

We need systematic consultation mechanisms, which could then be used for consultation required under existing laws, for example on collective redundancies. The last thing we want is for the EU directive not to make any difference to employment relations in the UK. At best, the directive has the potential to deliver a better employment relations system, which will benefit workers and employers.

Susan Anderson, director of HR policy, CBI

The CBI has consistently supported employee involvement as a key contributor to employee commitment and business performance. But we opposed the directive on grounds of principle as a national industrial relations issue, employee involvement is an inappropriate area for EU-level legislation. Given that the new law is now inevitable, the CBI is committed to ensuring that it helps rather than hinders genuine workplace consultation.

For us, this means that any legislation should not prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to employee involvement. UK firms already display a diverse range of best practice arrangements not just a traditional works council model. It is critical that the directive allows sufficient flexibility for arrangements to continue to express their companys employee relations culture.