Of all the draft EU directives sitting on the desks of power in Brussels,
employers have always been most fearful of the one on information and
consultation. Now speculation is rife among the Euro-watchers that at next
month’s Council of Ministers’ meeting it could finally get voted through – a UK
law could follow in three years’ time.
This spectre has been raised before and employers’ organisations like the
CBI keep dismissing it as rumour-mongering. Employers say national works
councils’ proposals, as the directive is more colloquially known, will have a
damaging impact on UK business. It allows staff access to information on the
most sensitive areas – from mergers to redundancies and business sales. And
employers face paying out 90 days’ wages for each employee disadvantaged by the
lack of consultation.
It looks like HR professionals will have to live with this legislation. But
there is no reason why they should let it go through unchallenged – it is still
a draft directive.
The text of an EU proposal does not have to impose a rigid works council
structure on every company. Before it is translated into the UK legislative
framework, senior HR practitioners should contact European lobbyists or MEPs to
push for a long lead-in time. They should insist on clauses that say if a
company has an effective consultation scheme, it should be acceptable. The
detail should be left to individual firms.
There are some benefits to good consultation – a well-informed workforce
should equal a motivated workforce. And if consultation with staff is going to
be key to a successful merger or business sale, it will give HR more clout in
the boardroom as the executive team turns to HR before the investment banker