Previous Article Next Article Catering for the massesOn 1 Jul 2003 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed. Lawyers are warning employers to start the ball rolling on establishingtheir national works councils within the next few months. The experience of contractcaterer Compass suggests this may be valuable advice. Simon Kent reportsThe Information and Consultation Directive (ICD) officially comes into forcein the UK in March 2005. At this point, companies with more than 150 staff willhave to inform and consult with their own works councils on matters relating toongoing and future business issues. Two years later, the ICD will covercompanies with more than 100 employees, with those employing 50 or more comingunder the legislation’s reach the following year. In each case, the establishment of the works council will only be necessaryif there is sufficient interest in such a body from an organisation’semployees. While some companies argue that interest will never arise, thereseems to be a general consensus that it is better to be proactive in this area,setting the ground work for such an agreement and keeping control of theprocedure, rather than waiting and hoping that such a situation does not occur– then having to react to a demanding workforce who have the backing of thelaw. The time and resources required to prepare the ground for a legitimate workscouncil should not be underestimated. According to Fraser Younson,vice-president of the Employers’ Law Association, effective works councils needto run for nine to 12 months prior to the legislative deadline if they are toiron out the wrinkles without experiencing pressure for legal compliance. “This means the works council agreement should be in place by about May2004,” he says. “To achieve this, management will have to roll outits staff communications to the workforce and have discussions with relevantrecognised unions by September or October 2003.” Staff consultation This might seem lawyer-cautious, but is it? Take the experience of contractcaterer Compass Group. Responding more to its experience of using an‘unofficial’ works council than to legal requirements, it signed an agreementfor establishing arrangements for staff consultation in November 2002. Itsfirst national works council meeting was held on 14-15 May this year and,according to Mike Burton, HR director for Compass Group UK and Ireland, theevent was “a great success”. As suggested by Younson, the road to creating Compass’s official agreementhas been a long one. The company has had a European Works Council for the pastfive years while the new UK-based national works council is built on thefoundations of a previously established council which already met twice a year.With a smaller number of unelected employee representatives attending, Burtonneeded no persuasion on the merits of the organisation. “We have already developed an excellent rapport with therepresentatives of our employees over the past few years and so have alreadyexperienced the benefits that the Information and Consultation Directiveaspires to encourage,” he says. Compass’s new national works council consists of 15 seats divided betweenthe unions in proportion to employee membership. There are seven trade unionsinvolved in total, so three seats each go to the TGWU, Unison, GMB and USDAW(who have most members in the company), and the remaining seats are held oneapiece by the RMT, CWU and PCS. Elections for representatives take place everyfour years and are entirely the responsibility of the unions themselves. The council is chaired by Compass’s CEO – demonstrating the seriousness withwhich the organisation takes this initiative and its commitment to gettingemployee views to the top table. Burton acts as secretary and a trade union member, currently from the TGWU,performs the administration duties of the council. According to Burton,everyone involved in the council has received one day of training to supporttheir activities so far – an event that was led by the company itself andincorporated input from a training representative from the TGWU. The council is set to meet annually every May with a second meeting inwinter, described by Burton as “an informal gathering just beforeChristmas to update representatives on the company’s business performance.”It will share and discuss information concerning ongoing business issues, thestate of the company and its future plans, and issues that may affect jobsecurity, in accordance with the ICD requirements. Assembly triggers The ICD also stipulates that consultation needs to take place in the eventof substantial changes in contractual relations or work organisation. Burtonpoints out that arrangements have been made to trigger an assembly of thecouncil if a sale or purchase of a business is made, or if the prospect ofmajor redundancies arises. The ICD also states that in all discussions, the employer retains the rightto keep back confidential information if it feels disclosure may cause seriousharm to the business, but Burton notes a great sense of trust exists in thecouncil itself. There is the sense of a professional attitude being takentowards all those involved in the discussion process. “Information explicitly disclosed as confidential by the company willbe entrusted to Compass works council representatives with an obligation ofnon-disclosure even after their term of office expires,” he says. Realistic benefits While consultation on contractual relations or work organisation should be‘with a view to reaching agreement’, the council is only a consultative andcommunications-focused entity throughout these activities and should berecognised as such. The ICD gives no direct power to the council itself, butBurton is clear that there are realistic benefits for all involved in theprocess. “This is an advisory body and as such has no formal powers,” henotes. “But it has been founded in the climate of the previous smallercouncil that had formed strong relationships.” Having already felt the benefits of the works council in enhancing company-widecommunications and relations, Burton is confident that the structures put inplace fulfil all obligations set out by the EC directive and forthcoming UKnational law. Moreover, following its first works council session, there are noimmediate changes planned for the council’s structure – though naturally, thereare processes in place to enable such action should it be necessary in thefuture: “The Works Council may initiate modifications through a written requestto the secretary of at least two-thirds of the representatives,” saysBurton. “But from the advice we have taken, and in particular, the support wehave had from a TUC employment policy adviser, we are confident that we haveestablished a robust set of arrangements that will further advance ourrelationship with our trade union groups.” Burton’s top tips for creating a works council– Enter discussions in an open and honestway– Make it clear to both sides what is in scope and what is not– Do not set up an overly long, unworkable formal agreement– Make sure you do not spend all your time referring to theagreement rather than getting on and working with each otherThe ICD in brief– Its purpose is to establish ageneral framework setting out minimum requirements for the right to informationand consultation of employees in undertakings or establishments within thecommunity– It applies to undertakings of 50 or more employees orestablishments of 20 or more – the UK is set to go for the undertakings option– Such undertakings must inform and consult on:a) The recent and probable development of the undertakings’activities and economic situationb) The situation, structure and probable development ofemployment within the undertaking or establishment and on any anticipatorymeasures envisaged, in particular where there is a threat to employmentc) Decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in workorganisation or in contractual relations (including mass dismissals andtransfers)– Employees are to be informed in such a way as is appropriateto enable representatives to conduct an adequate study and where necessaryprepare for consultation– Employees are to be consulted in such a way as to enablerepresentatives to meet the employer and obtain a response, and the reasons forthat response to any opinion they might formulate, with a view to reachingagreement on decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in workorganisation or contractual relations.