EU directive to increase employees’ rights could be law by next year

The European Commission’s
proposals to force all employers with more than 50 staff to consult their
workforce on key business decisions could become law in Europe by next year.

A European directive on
consultation and information is due to be discussed at a meeting of the social
affairs ministers of the European Council on 7 May 2001. Sweden, which assumed
the European Union presidency in January, has put the directive firmly on the
EU’s agenda.

Advocates of the directive such
as the European Parliament Socialist Group are pressing the commission for a
European law on information and consultation for all firms by next year.

Germany and the UK have
persistently blocked the directive, drafted by the European Commission in 1998.
At present, only firms with more than 1,000 staff and employing more than 150
in two or more countries have to consult with staff through European works
councils.

Convener of the European
Parliament Socialist Group on employment Stephen Hughes said, "Germany is
now ready to vote for a common position. With German and Danish ministers now
backing the law, Ireland and the UK do not constitute a sufficient blocking
minority."

The CBI, however, argues that
there is little possibility of the EU directive on information and consultation
becoming enshrined in UK law. Simon Blake, employee relations policy adviser
for the CBI, said, "There has been a sustained campaign of
rumour-mongering by proponents of the directive. We know that the members of
the blocking minority such as Germany, the UK and Denmark remain opposed to the
directive. I think it is highly unlikely that the directive will be passed next
year." 

The CBI is strongly opposed to the
directive being incorporated into UK law. Blake said, "Our first objection
is on the grounds of principle. We already have legislation in place which
governs transnational issues such as the European Works Councils directive.

"Second, the directive would
damage good practice in employee relations. It will ride roughshod over
practices that companies already have in place by forcing a ‘one size fits all’
policy on them."

The Government argues for
subsidiarity over employee consultation, with these matters being dealt with a
national level. The Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederation of Europe
(Unice) supports this stance. Social affairs director Therese De Liederkerke
said, "Legislation on information and consultation in purely national firms
should not be regulated at a European level. All European countries have
policies in place which cover employee consultation and this directive will
upset national industrial relations policies."

The CIPD also opposes the
directive. Diane Sinclair, employee relations adviser for the CIPD, said,
"Our position is that effective involvement is based on trust."

By Karen Higginbottom

Comments are closed.