Five models for staff representation

Mike Emmott outlines five strong consultation
models that fit well with the Information and Consultation Directive.

The Government’s Information and Consultation Directive lets
employers and employees decide what form of employee involvement best suits

Mike Emmott, adviser on employee relations at the Chartered
Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), applauds this. “I don’t think
there’s one single best buy because each company’s circumstances are so very
different,” he says. “What is best for each company depends on its history,
size, culture and sector.”

Works Council

The Works Council or Joint Consultative Committee model
typically exist in large organisations that have recognised trade unions for
years. The union looks at things such as pay issues and the Works Council
addresses other issues.

Many of the councils actually need
re-invigorating because they are only talking about issues such as toilets and
other small-scale stuff. The aspiration to talk about strategic issues and
really consult the workforce is rarely realised in a full sense.

The councils should be looking at issues such
as employment prospects, business context, redundancies etc.

Employee Forum

This is similar to the Works Council, but is not as historic
and will need a complete overhaul as a result of the directive. Employee forums
occur where the workplace doesn’t recognise a union for negotiating purposes,
or in services where the union is not that active – you find it a great deal in
finance. There will be some pressure on enlightened employers to adopt this
voluntarily, and they will do so because it will build trust with the

Mixed economy

The mixed economy is where there is limited union
involvement within the framework that is essentially of elected
representatives. Quite a number of big employers are already like this model,
using unions largely for bargaining and consultation purposes, but there are
often groups within the company that remain unrepresented, such as managers.
There will be pressure from employees and unions to have representation for
everyone and some groups – managers in particular – will want to represent
themselves. It might be that the workforce elects the majority of reps but
gives one seat on each consultative body over to the union.

Direct consultation

This means everything except representation. There are no
reps or unions – employers go straight to the employees. Typically, it focuses
on immediate job-related issues, but I don’t believe it is so good at looking
at strategic issues. It happens in companies that are not big enough to
recognise unions, sectors where employees are not that interested in having
unions or are ideologically opposed to them. Consultation takes place in
various ways – team briefings, project teams, problem solving teams, e-mail
employee attitude surveys and the intranet. There is plenty of experimentation
going on in how to get meaningful involvement using direct methods.


The CIPD hopes a number of employers will go for this method
as it interprets the directive in a positive spirit, rather than just going for
compliance. Some employers will use every method available to them to engage
with the workforce – representatives, union, direct communication – regarding
them as complimentary. Management puts the effort in to recognise Partnership
as a model and where there is genuine dialogue, including strategic dialogue,
it really produces business benefits. Some initiatives are a bit traditional
and it takes time to deliver, but you can get funding from the DTI’s
Partnership Fund.

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