Information and consultation

Due to come into force on 6 April 2005, the Information & Consultation (I&C) regulations will enable staff in businesses with 150 or more employees to demand that their employer consults them on a wide range of business issues.

Here are some answers to questions about how it will work.

Q What will I need to inform and consult with staff on?

A The regulations encourage employers and staff to agree the topics together, but they include: the financial state of the business,  business reorganisation, takeovers, mergers, changes in production/services, outsourcing, expansion plans, staff changes, changes to employment policies and procedures, and potential redundancies (but not collective redundancies, or TUPE transfers where consultation has taken place in line with existing regulations).

However, employers are not obliged to consult on the first six, just simply inform.

Q What sort of things should we be doing to get ready for I&C?

A In the past, UK companies have used staff committees to provide a channel for communication, while in Europe, works councils are widespread.

With I&C, a formal committee is not obligatory, as long as employer and staff come to a mutual agreement on communication methods. Employers must create a forum for providing information on business issues, and encourage and listen to feedback from the various employee groups.

Companies that choose staff committees should consider what they will discuss, how management and trade unions will engage with them, how many representatives should be elected and how they will be marketed internally to staff to secure their buy-in.

Q  How will I&C help my business and benefit staff?

A With around 3,700 staff, three main offices and branch offices across the UK, Royal London realised that revolutionising communications would not only benefit workers, but would add significant value to the business.

Staff committees have been created for each business unit. Operating as a two-way process, they are incredibly influential. With an elected and trained representative responsible for each group of employees, their particular needs are understood, with constructive suggestions made to management on a regular basis.

Plans for improving the business are tackled and ‘owned’ throughout the company, rather than just by senior executives. When difficult issues arise, each committee’s views are fully and fairly represented, resulting in a better understanding between management and staff. The enthusiasm from employees and managers for I&C has overwhelmed the HR department.

Q  What if I decide I&C is not right for my business, or too difficult to implement?

A Don’t do anything, as long as you are sure it will not cause you a problem in the future.

If a voluntary agreement is not set up, it will need only 10 per cent of staff to make a request for it, and the company will be legally obliged to enter into negotiations to agree a written constitution for an I&C mechanism.

The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) will have powers to force employers to adhere to any agreement they have reached, and fines can be imposed of up to £75,000 on employers who fail to adhere to the regulations.

Q How do we prove that a voluntary agreement is in place?

A You need one or more written agreements setting out the process for providing I&C, and cover all staff. There must also be written evidence that the majority of staff voluntarily approve of them.

The DTI states that an existing collective agreement with a trade union will suffice, so long as it covers all staff and is in writing. There can be different agreements for different parts of the business, or one agreement that provides for different arrangements for different parts of the business.

Once established, a vote of at least 40 per cent of the workforce and a majority of those voting will be necessary to change the voluntary arrangement.

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