M&S wins right to push through cuts

A court decision in France will give employers more confidence making
redundancies across Europe.

Marks & Spencer welcomed the ruling against three French unions last
week that had challenged the legal validity of its European works council. The
council will now administer staff consultation on the closures.

Diane Anderson who is head of personnel for international retail at M&S,
said, "We fully believe our European works council is valid – it’s been
running since 1995 – and we’re glad that a judge confirmed this. It provides an
important forum for our European staff."

M&S is now going ahead with plans to sell the 18 stores, which employed
1,600 staff.

Anderson said, "The HR team has been fully involved in our works
council and played a key role in discussions with staff. We’ve continued our
process of consultation through the whole period."

In the past, UK companies were reluctant to restructure because of the
threat of legal action involving complex labour laws on the Continent,
explained European HR consultant Peter Reid. He believes the case will set a
precedent for other employers.

Reid said, "It’s extremely good news because it finally clears up the
issue of what constitutes a valid agreement. The fact that a French court has
validated the M&S works council will be key."

He added, "It finally confirms that just because consultation law in
Europe is tough it doesn’t make it impossible. Companies can restructure as
long as they follow correct procedures."

A further case later this year will decide whether M&S announced or
proposed the store closures and whether it consulted staff properly under
French law.

Three store managers could face a custodial sentence or fines up to
FFr25,000 (£2,404) if found guilty.

By Ross Wigham

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