European labour law still has the capacity to change all our lives. While it always takes ages, seems to need the input of thousands, is overly long and written in a style all its own, it still has an impact everywhere.
The new information and consultation directive is the usual dull, worthy and somewhat tedious stuff. But, I encountered it working in two very different environments last week.
The first was a small engineering works, whose equipment is ancient but whose economic challenge from Chinese competition is bang up-to-date. The company has just over 100 employees - half in the union, and half not.
The lack of financial resources was obvious, but so was the need to improve productivity without the necessary equipment to compete on a world stage. Inevitably, all eyes turn to the workforce to see if there is more they can contribute. The company has voluntarily proposed to introduce a works council in line with the European directive, way ahead of the Government's over-extended deadline.
A meeting of the unionised workforce was held, and addressed by two union officers. They explained the differences between works councils and traditional collective bargaining.
It provoked a wide-ranging debate. Some thought the company had never told people enough, and that a works council would dilute union influence. Others thought that works councils obliged the company to disclose more than ever before, and would give the members a better understanding of the commercial realities affecting their company.
But, above all, the members felt it would stimulate the union into supporting the works councillors to understand the issues affecting the global economy - increasing local effectiveness.
The managers in the plant could see this too. Consulting with non-union people is fair and reasonable, but the progress of the company will only be assured by the workforce and company developing together - and that process is too difficult to do with dozens of individuals. Only a representative body can have the independent support from outside to improve the skills of the reps on the works council.
At my next meeting, senior representatives and managers from the steel industry were gathered for a weekend conference.
One of the speakers was the chairman of Corus' European Works Council. The big issue he outlined was the impact of Brazilian steel on Corus' European endeav