Fallout from the M&S debacle has led the EU to take a tougher line on
the adoption of domestic works councils. The European directive would force UK
companies to inform and consult workers on all decisions that could affect the
running of the company.
M&S’ announcement that it is closing all its European stores, with a
loss in France of 1,700 jobs caused a furore when it emerged that it had failed
to consult with its French staff. The company has since been forced to suspend
its closure plans in France until it has completed a full consultation and
information process with its French workers.
But the controversy has led to condemnation from the EU and the insistence,
by European commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou that, "Such behaviour hardly
reflects well on the reputation of the company itself in the eyes of the
consumers. That is why we are very much looking forward to the rapid adoption
of the Commission proposal guaranteeing proper worker information and
Unlike the current European Works Directive, which only applies to companies
with more than 1,000 staff, as it stands, the Domestic Works Council directive
would apply to any employer with 50 or more workers. The draft proposal was
made last November, but was not passed because of objections from a minority of
member states. Negotiations are still ongoing as to the size of the companies
affected, the devolved role of collective negotiation and the details of the
rules on confidentiality.
Says Diane Sinclair, adviser on employment relations at the CIPD,
"Everything will depend on the final text. The European Works Council and the
proposed national-level directive are new to the UK. We have had a tradition of
voluntary consultation in this country and the directive would represent a new
style of industrial relations."