Waiting for the Big One

It has been hailed as perhaps the most important piece of employment
legislation ever. So is HR quaking in its boots? By Phil Boucher

Terry Robinson
HR director UK, Eurotunnel

We don’t feel the information and consultation legislation will force us to
make big changes as we have always had a consultative framework in place. As
Eurotunnel is Anglo-French, the internal consultation has basically mirrored
the situation in France, so we have had a works council in all but name since
the company was created in 1994.

Three years ago, Eurotunnel also created a European Works Council. This is
made up of eight representatives each from the UK and France. It meets twice a
year and basically supplements the UK company council which meets six times a
year. There are no limitations on the agenda within any of these, so
representatives are free to debate anything they wish between themselves.

In the UK we already have the situation where a lot of our consultation
overlaps anyway. This is partly because of the 1999 Employment Relations Act
and because we have formed a strong partnership with the T&G since 2000.
The existing partnership mostly discusses pay and conditions, and there are no
limitations on what they can talk about. It meets six times a year to deal with
company issues. Eurotunnel is also developing a plan to mix the T&G and
works council together so there is even wider consultation.

The Act may bring a degree of rationalisation to this consultation, but it
will not change too much because the company is owned by shareholders and we
already have a fairly transparent approach to financial and company business.
We are already far more open than the majority of UK firms as we are run in the
same way as a French company.

The one worry that exists arises from the phrase "with a view to
reaching an agreement". This phrase could cause problems depending on how
it is interpreted as we have always relied on traditional consultation. Like
most companies, we make a decision at board level, then pass the details
throughout the organisation to gain feedback. The board then decides whether it
should act on the feedback or not.

If the phrase has teeth, it could well mean the company has to restructure –
particularly as we might be obliged to leave important plans on hold while
people make their minds up. Other than this, I cannot see that the Act is going
to make radical changes to the way we consult or the degree of transparency we
have within the company.

Jill Crowther
Head of HR practice, Microsoft

We are waiting to see what further
amendments will be made to the Act and are consulting with the CBI to prepare
for it. We are worried that rigid formalisation of the communication process
may cause us to lose some of the engagement we have worked so hard to develop.
Our global staff survey currently has a 93 per cent response rate, for
instance, and this may be adversely affected by any changes to the two-way
relationship. In particular, we are concerned the legislation may force the
company to take a step backwards. Our fear is that it may negatively affect
companies that have been more progressive. Despite this, we think it is
brilliant for companies that haven’t placed such an emphasis on consultation

Kate Jopson
Principal consultant, KPMG people services

We have anticipated future
developments by introducing an Employee Business Forum. We hope this will be a
mechanism for information and consultation and help promote employee
involvement in the business. It is composed of elected employee representatives
and members of management, who attend regular meetings. To ensure everything is
as transparent as possible, there are published agendas that employees
contribute to. The forum will be used for both formal and informal consultation
and is designed to engage KPMG people in dialogue about relevant issues. We
hope it will focus attention on key issues for the firm, and create a way of
harnessing employees’ ideas and creativity, as well as promoting understanding
of the business.

Len Aspell
Group head of employee relations, HSBC

Until the draft regulations are
published, it is difficult to be precise about how they may apply to current
arrangements. We already have information and collective consultation
procedures in place for our management grades (a National Council Forum) and
clerical staff grades (through a trade union) and do not know how these will be
affected. We also communicate directly with employees through various channels.
It is important the regulations allow employers and employees the opportunity
and flexibility to determine the most appropriate framework. We would be
concerned if the regulations dissuaded companies from direct communication with
employees and relied entirely on indirect communication through employee

Sue Griffin
Head of employment relations, Ceridian Centrefile

We are in the process of changing our
pension scheme for people on defined benefits schemes and have elected
delegates to voice the opinions of those concerned. Ceridian also handles a lot
of TUPE transfers and this involves a huge amount of consultation at both ends
of the spectrum. We believe this will change slightly in the future because
instead of electing people for a specific purpose, we are likely to have
permanent elected representatives. Ideally, these people would hold the
position for between 2-3 years – it takes some time for them to get to grips
with everything that’s involved. But at the moment, nothing has been set out in
defined terms as we are still waiting for the legislation to be finalised.

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