BMW Rover, Vauxhall, Corus ñ Personnel Today has covered the news of redundancies in these companies extensively in its pages. The acute dilemmas that such crises present are the real difficulties HR directors face over how to consult with thousands of staff who are about to lose their jobs.
On each occasion the employer has been criticised by the media because staff heard about the news from the media first. But senior HR managers are caught between a rock and a hard place in this complex area of front-line personnel management.
For example, in the Vauxhall case, consultation was hampered by strict confidentiality rules set out by the American stock exchange which are more stringent than in the UK. And it has emerged in the Corus case that personnel director Allan Johnston was making strenuous efforts to consult with staff (News p1). As the announcement broke in the media, consultative meetings had begun in every plant affected. The 90-day consultation period with unions is starting tomorrow.
Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers, realising this is a hot political potato, announced a review of the laws on employee consultation on redundancies in January. But is this any more than a cheap political PR exercise? There are no terms of reference and the DTI is not consulting with the central figures of the whole process ñ HR directors ñ or even the profession's institute, the CIPD.
This is why we are writing an open letter to DTI secretary Stephen Byers this week (Analysis p12). HR directors who have already put forward their incisive views and comments to Personnel Today must persuade Byers that he should listen to their concerns.
HR is at the centre of the debate on staff consultation. It should be at the centre of the Government's review.