Northern Foods in mass works councils set-up

European law has prompted Northern Foods to introduce continental-style
works councils at its 18 subsidiaries.

The Hull-based producer is to set up a forum at each of its constituent
companies. This goes far beyond the statutory minimum of an international works
council for the group set out by the European Works Council directive, which is
extended to cover UK staff from this week.

The Hull-based firm’s chairman is Lord Haskins, a key business adviser to
Tony Blair. There is some irony in the move as Blair led the opposition to the
European Commission’s plan for compulsory works councils for all employers with
50 staff or more.

Group personnel director Mike Morgan denied that Northern Foods’ move shows
that forcing a company to have staff forums is good for the business.

"There is a world of difference between a company with a clear view as
to how it should move a business forward and one with an external law forcing
everyone to do the same," he said.

The plans build on the company’s long-standing commitment to staff
consultation and have not been influenced by the commission’s proposals, he
said.

Northern Foods employs 22,000, nearly all of whom work in the UK, with 1,400
in Ireland and about 100 in the Netherlands.

Morgan added that the development is due partly to growing awareness of the
importance of "soft" business practices such as honesty in
communication. The group also plans to introduce staff attitude surveys to see
if communication improves.

The recognised unions are the Transport & General, the Bakers Food and
Allied Workers Union, retail union Usdaw, the GMB and the Irish union Siptu.

European Works Councils directive

• Under the current law, firms with at least 1,000 staff, and 150 in each of
two or more EU countries, must set up a consultation forum if the staff request
one.

• From 15 January, UK employees will be included. They were not covered
before because of the Social Chapter opt-out under the previous government.

By Philip Whiteley

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