Keep consultation directive flexible for business’ sake

The flexibility built into the current draft EU directive on consultation is
critical to business performance, and should, at all costs, be retained

The court decision in France which threw out one of the union challenges to
the validity of the Marks & Spencer European Works Council, has again
focused attention on consultation with staff over closures (News, 25

How multinationals handle major redundancies and plant closures or mergers
and acquisitions has dominated the debate during the passage of a new draft EU
directive on "Information and Consultation at National Level".

But while these are important issues for those directly affected, by no
means do they tell the whole story. This focus on major corporate restructures
overlooks the impact the directive could have on the valuable contribution of
regular staff consultation on improving business performance.

It now seems almost certain that we will have a European directive on
consultation by the end of this year. It is important that this directive and
the way it is implemented in the UK provides the opportunity for employers to
develop information and consultation systems that best suit them and their
employees. Furthermore, it must not lead to organisations having to dismantle
systems that have served them and their employees well for often many years.

An overly prescriptive directive detailing how organisations across Europe
have to inform and consult their employees on business issues is therefore
inappropriate. Such a directive would not enable organisations to achieve the
improved performance that can be obtained from such systems. This is an area of
business where a "one size fits all" approach is highly

To add value to business, the way in which an organisation informs and
consults its employees has to fit coherently with a number of factors. It has
to be tailored to the organisation’s culture, structure and management style as
well as its employee relations history and environment.

This is why attempts to reduce the flexibility in the current text of the
draft directive must be resisted. The document on which "political"
agreement was reached by all member states earlier this year, is probably the
least worst deal that could have been achieved for employers. It contains a
degree of flexibility that will enable each government to design and develop a
legislative framework for informing and consulting employees that fits with
their employee relations systems. It will also provide employers with
flexibility to have systems that meet the needs of their business and

The successful implementation of information and consultation systems is not
just about procedures – it often requires changes to be made to an
organisation’s culture. These inevitably take time to bed-down in an
organisation and cannot be introduced overnight or imposed from outside. The
phased implementation provisions in the current text of the draft directive
therefore need to stay. These will give organisations the necessary time to
design and implement systems that benefit them and their employees.

We are now reaching an important stage in the progress of this draft
directive through the European legislative procedure, with in-depth discussions
currently taking place in the European Parliament.

The signs are that some MEPs are pressing for significant changes to be made
to the text and it is important that this pressure is resisted. On this issue,
employers will be judging the UK Government on its ability to meet the critical
challenge of retaining the flexibility of the current draft directive rather
than accepting a compromise text that provides employers with too little

By David Yeandle a deputy director of the Engineering Employers’

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