Why the works council works

Supply chain firm Wincanton Plc is the first UK plc to form a European works council (EWC) since the European Union expansion of 2004.

The core idea of a council is to allow a greater degree of employee input into the firm. Council members are consulted on trans-national issues such as economic, business and employment matters.

This is an especially important area for Wincanton, which has a presence in 12 EU states, a total that includes four of the newly-joined states.

The trigger for the firm to develop this new framework came in December 2002 when Wincanton acquired P&O’s logistics business, P&O Trans European.

This business operated in more than 200 sites and employed about 7,000 people.

The acquisition doubled Wincanton’s revenues but also led to an extensive operating expansion throughout Europe.

But the creation of a European works council is extremely complex as well as logistically demanding.

The company spent 18 months agreeing the framework of the council and is now to start selecting members from its European workforce.

Wincanton had to ensure, however, that the Council was representative of both its white collar and blue collar workers across the 12 European countries where it has a presence.

A further complication was ensuring that all those on the council had a common purpose, no easy considering the complex spread of nationalities and job types represented.

In order to accommodate these complexities, Wincanton set up a negotiating body in November 2004, with the job of outlining the Council’s parameters, as well as fianalising the election process to ensure the best spread of Councillors.

So can such a large undertaking reap benefits?

“This was done because our aim is to be the leading guys in Europe. And this meant technical and commercial changes,” says Wincanton’s HR director, Nigel Sullivan.

By his own admission, the move was extremely complicated.

“We did it for commercial reasons; to show that we’re properly pan-European,” he said. “As a result we have ‘joined up’, both internally and externally.”

The move has been welcomed by employees and unions alike. National secretary of the T&G, Ron Webb, was enthusiastic about the council and said it set a new standard within the industry.

“It highlights Wincanton’s commitment to developing a modern and inclusive relationship with its employees across Europe,” Webb said.

The formation of the works council was overseen by the specialist Information and Consultation team at Eversheds.

There seems to be a general feeling of satisfaction with the council. The question remains however, will this scheme help the firm to grow – will it mean the firm will generate more money?

“That’s a good question,” said Nigel Sullivan. “We want to grow organically in Europe by having a pan-European presence and having a strategic commercial aim.

“We want to inform and communicate with our workforce, which is 27,000 people.”

European Works Council legislation has been in place in the UK since the beginning of 2000.

Other directives aimed at promoting better employee relations across Europe include the Information and Consultation directive and the European Company

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