EU law no substitute for real consultation

it a slowdown or a recession – or not quite either? Whatever is going on,
manufacturing in particular is losing jobs. Motorola closed a Scottish factory
with the minimum of consultation. Again, the accusation stands that UK law on
prior consultation is so weak that multinationals close British subsidiaries
first because it is cheaper and quicker to do it here. Social Europe would not
let people be sacked without prior consultation and generous support measures.

issue, though, has some interesting themes behind these predictable, if
understandable, concerns. It is not clear that better, "expensive"
consultation saves jobs. It is also not clear whether the Government, if it is
re-elected, will forever resist doing something about bringing UK consultation
rights closer to the European norm.

what does this issue tell us about the relationship between national
governments and multinationals? Have corporations become so mighty that all any
government can do is placate them and defer to their every employment policy
wish? This might look the case, but the Government did not hesitate to
introduce union recognition laws, and the inward investors have accepted that
with largely good grace.

need for inward investment is vital for Britain, particularly for
manufacturing. Most employees say if they work for inward investors that they
are mightily preferable to no work at all. But they will also reveal that the
terms and conditions – and the atmosphere of successful workplace purpose – is
often in advance of traditional UK management styles. These days, it is not
just prominent inward investors who shock us. Job security at Marks &
Spencer is not what it used to be.

current interest in how to get every employer to consult more widely is also
tied up with the red tape frenzy. There would not be calls for legislation on
consultation if more employers involved staff at an earlier stage. But what
does the average UK firm prefer? Is management prepared to open up the company
to scrutiny from below? When the people who do the work illustrate the
shortcomings of the "strategy" and the "vision thing", can
managers take the criticism and improve the company’s performance by improving
their own? Or do they hide from open consultation and refuse to change big
ideas for fear of having to admit to their own fallibility?

the average reaches higher standards, the "red tape" solution appears
to be the only show in town. We would prefer British behaviours to improve, and
we know the law is no substitute for genuine reforming mutuality at work. But
don’t ask the workforce to abandon protective restrictive practices if they can
still be thrown out by people who knew months before that the tumbrels were in
the car park and told no one they had arrived.

John Lloyd
National officer, Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union

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