Europe leads the way on staff consultation

The deadline for implementing the Information and Consultation Directive, 23 March 2005, is fast approaching.

An international survey by law firm Eversheds, conducted across its global network of offices and among members of the Employment Law Alliance, has investigated how European states will implement the directive.

The new directive will mean that member states must guarantee information and consultation procedures in companies with 50 or more employees. Companies must inform staff about recent and probable developments, future activities and the economic situation.

They must also consult employees about the situation, the structure and the probable development of employment within the company, the planned or anticipated measures if employment is in danger, and any decisions that will have a substantial impact on the organisation of the work or on employment contracts.

According to the directive, the information must be given to the relevant level of employee representation, and the timing, method of delivery and content of the information must be appropriate – allowing them time to prepare properly for the consultation.

The Eversheds survey shows that most continental European countries already have elaborate information and consultation systems and that these have been established for a long time. This is certainly the case for Austria, Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

In these countries the information and consultation requirements already go much further than the directive, and some countries, such as The Netherlands, see the implementation requirement as an opportunity to modernise their existing regulations.

Important information and consultation requirements already exist in Sweden, and an extension will be required for employees who are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

In Denmark, where information and consultation is in principle governed by the freedom of contract between the employer and the employees, the existing requirements were also laid down in a co-operation agreement between the Danish Confeder-ation of Trade Unions and the country’s Confederation of Employers. A legislative intervention was discussed last November to cover those employees who are not protected by a collective agreement.

The survey also reveals that most of the new accession countries are already compliant with the Information and Consultation Directive.

In Poland, Ireland and the UK – aside from certain specific areas, such as health and safety, mass redundancies, and staff transfers – no general system exists. A draft Bill has been submitted to the Polish social partners – groups which include, trade union and employer representatives – who are currently discussing a proposal with the government.

In Ireland and the UK the concerned parties have also been consulted, and it is expected that the draft Bill will be passed in the UK early this year.

In Italy, information and consultation obligations do not exist in general at national level, but are incorporated in collective agreements at local (provincial) or at company level.

Stefan Corbanie is an employment partner at law firm Eversheds,

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