Rules on consultation need stiff penalties

The T&G’s general secretary Bill Morris tells Paul Nelson why he feels
the Information and Consultation regulations must have effective penalties if
they are to be of any use

The T&G’s general secretary Bill Morris is calling for employers to face
significant financial penalties if they fail to comply with the forthcoming
Information and Consultation legislation.

In an exclusive interview with Personnel Today, Morris also criticises HR’s
lack of strategic contribution and employers’ commitment to the partnership

Morris said the Information and Consultation regulations, which will require
employers to consult with staff over issues that affect them such as
restructuring and redundancies, must have teeth if it is to prove effective.

The Government has not yet made any decision about what penalties will be
included in the legislation, which is still at the consultation stage and will
not come into force until 2005.

Morris wants a code which sets out a minimum consultation standard for
employers. He is in no doubt that the only way to force companies to conform is
to hit their bottom line.

"I am fed up with T&G members having to turn on the radio to find
out if they have lost their job. For me, it is simple. We have rights and
obligations, and we get rewards. If companies do not implement the minimum
standard then they do not receive investment grants, tax breaks or a lot of the
things they get now," he said.

"It is a carrot and stick situation – which I would rather not do – but
it is the only way to make them [employers] do it."

Morris believes one of the reasons for poor consultation in the workplace is
that many employers have not embraced partnership arrangements with unions.

"My great concern is that employers are not crossing the line to a true
and enduring partnership. There is still a ‘them and us’ mentality, which is a
factor inhibiting improvements to industrial relations, and productivity and

He added that HR directors must ensure they have a louder voice in the
boardroom if industrial relations are to improve.

"I do not blame CEOs or the company culture, because around the table
in a business-orientated environment, every portfolio has to fight its corner.
I see no real evidence that HR directors are fighting theirs."

Morris believes HR directors must introduce a staff communications structure
to channel opinion to the boardroom.

"The HR director must be pro-active and assertive. They convey the bad
news from the boardroom down to staff, but what they never do is take the views
of employees to the boardroom.

"If the role is to be meaningful and to inform the decision-making
process, it needs a structure and a system in order to poll the opinions of the
people and take them to the board so it can have a rounded view about the very
important assets the HR director is responsible for. My experience tells me
this is not the reality."

Morris does not think the UK is returning to the confrontational industrial
relations environment of the 1970s, despite the number of high-profile
industrial disputes over the past year.

However, he stressed the union is determined to take strike action if
employers attempt to close down its members’ final salary pension schemes.

"If there is one issue where there will be an uprising of disputes, it
is pensions, because people feel cheated, conned and insecure in terms of

"I am giving clear notice that the pensions robbery must end and we
will have no hesitation in asking our members to take industrial action if this
is necessary to resolve the issue."

The other big issue Morris highlights as a particular concern for his union
is Public Private Partnerships and Private Finance Initiatives. He does not
believe the TUPE code, which is supposed to protect the terms and conditions of
staff transferred from the public to the private sector, goes far enough.

"The code is toothless. It states that terms and conditions must be
‘broadly similar’ – it should be ‘comparable’. Then we might have a code with
some teeth in terms of enforceability," he said.

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