Last week’s announcement of 6,050 redundancies at steel
giant Corus has sent shockwaves through the Government and a chilly blast
through the benign UK industrial relations climate of the past decade (News,
For HR director Allan Johnston it is the ultimate nightmare,
watching all of the achievements in employee relations at Corus disappear down
Unions say Corus is the latest example of a company wielding
the axe without consulting workers on long-term options that might save jobs.
Employees will see Corus as proof that the voluntary partnership approach
between employers and staff is a one-sided affair.
Worse still, the unions will argue, the relatively lightly
regulated UK market allows firms to lay off staff much more quickly and cheaply
than on the continent. Some will look to the draft directive on information and
consultation at a national level, which looks certain to become European law by
But it is unlikely any law or government interference could
have stopped the redundancies at Corus, which were the consequence of economic
factors beyond the control of either the company or the Government.
This does not mean consultation is not important. The point
is that consultation must be appropriate to the business environment. As
European employee relations adviser Peter Reid points out (Opinion, p20), the
one-size-fits-all approach will not benefit business or staff, especially if
the garment in question is a straitjacket.
If we must have legislation, it is crucial that the
Government, in its anxiety to avoid more bad headlines, does not force UK
companies to adopt a prescriptive approach based on a European model. This will
not save jobs, it will just draw out the agony for employers and staff alike.