The proactive approach

The Information and Consultation Directive will come into force in little over a month. Simon Kent looks at one company making sure it doesn’t get caught out

From 6 April, employers ignoring requests from at least 10% of their workforce to set up formal information and consultation processes will face fines of up to £75,000, and the imposition of a ‘straitjacket’ government information and consultation model.

If such a request is made, employers will be obliged to inform and consult on areas such as employees’ prospects for employment and any substantial changes to work organisation or contractual relations.

Property outsourcing specialist Land Securities Trillium has taken a proactive approach to meeting the demands of the forthcoming Directive.

With three distinct business operations within the company, it has created three ‘business exchange forums’ to match the requirements of a ‘pre-existing agreement’ under the directive.

Pre-existing agreements have to be in place before any employee request is made, otherwise the government’s onerous default model will apply.

“In introducing the business exchange forums, we wanted to protect the cultural identity and uniqueness of each operating business,” says HR project manager Sarah Martyn.

The forums were created from scratch, with three separate agreements covering each business. Each forum can address the relevant business issues for each part of the organisation, while enhancing communication between each business.

The company drew up a full summary of a legal agreement for employee consultation written in straight-forward language which everyone in the company could understand. By using electronic voting, the company received approval of that consultation strategy from the majority of the workforce. Having approved this basic framework, nominations and elections of employee and management representatives then took place.

Although the framework has been established, Martyn is keen to note that the actual operation of each business exchange forum has been left flexible: “We don’t want to dictate how the forums will operate or how much time it will take for the representatives to do their jobs,” she says. “We have established the structure and now we have to see how it works.”

The number of representatives in each part of the company has been determined not simply by the number of employees working in each area, but also by geographical factors. Hence, Property Services with 400 employees across the UK has 13 employee and 3 management reps, while Media Services with 350 employees mainly based in London has only 6 employee and 3 management reps. In this way, Martyn and her team are confident the forums will reach all employees.

“Part of the training given to all our reps includes how they will communicate with their constituencies,” says Martyn. “We expect that communication to include e-mail and telephone, but with our guidance we are keen for the reps to determine how this will best work.”

The business exchange forums provide an additional line of communication across the company. They do not replace existing initiatives nor take on board responsibilities such as health and safety or remuneration issues.

They also do not affect existing agreements with unions within Trillium Media Services – the only unionised part of the company. From start to finish, the initiative has been presented not as an HR programme, but as a company wide initiative, led by both senior and line management.

This focus has been demonstrated even through the naming of the forum. Business exchange forum has a very clear identity, dedicated to the discussion of operational matters of concern to everyone in the company. Its primary focus is not directly the welfare of the employees, but on the operational and structural issues in the organisation and how these affect everyone’s working life.

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