UK union leader renews call for adoption of EU consultation Directive

In October 1999, the general secretary of the UK's Trades Union Congress strongly criticised the UK government for continuing to oppose the draft EU Directive on national information and consultation rules put forward by the European Commission, but expressed confidence that the measure would ultimately be adopted.

John Monks, the general secretary of the UK's Trades Union Congress (TUC), has strongly criticised the Labour government for acting as the "key organiser" of a blocking minority within the EU Council to prevent the adoption of the draft EU Directive on national information and consultation rules. Speaking at the annual conference of the Institute for Personnel and Development on 28 October 1999, Mr Monks warned that this is probably the issue on which there is the "sharpest divide" between "new Labour" and the unions. In September, the TUC's 1999 Congress passed a resolution regretting the government's stance on the draft Directive and calling for its speedy adoption.

The proposal for a Council Directive aimed at establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community was put forward by the European Commission in November 1998 (EU9812135F). The UK government was particularly critical of the Commission's move, and was reported to have secured the support of the German government in opposing the draft Directive (UK9811162N). As a result, there was no discussion of the Commission's proposal within the Labour and Social Affairs Council of Ministers under the German EU Presidency during the first six months of 1999. Similarly the Finnish Presidency of the second half of 1999 has not included this proposal on the agenda of the Council.

Under the proposal, all undertakings with at least 50 employees would be required to inform and consult employee representatives about a range of business, employment and work organisation issues. The TUC sees the proposed Directive as "an obvious complementary step" to the rapid pace of change caused by the single European market and globalisation. However, the measure is opposed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and the TUC leader regards the government's stance on the issue as "evidence of an understanding with the CBI" that there should be no new EU measures introduced via the social chapter of the Treaty of Amsterdam for the time being.

In his speech, Mr Monks welcomed the range of new employment rights introduced by the Labour government but said that on the issue of information and consultation he is the government's "number one critic". He argued that it would not be possible for the government to draw a line under recent employment law changes: the UK is now part of the "mainstream of EU social policy" and the issue of national works councils remains "unfinished business" on the Commission's agenda. He expressed confidence that the Directive would ultimately be adopted, "whether by qualified majority or otherwise", and expected it to have a "significant effect on the structure of worker representation in the UK".

In a briefing note for Members of the European Parliament issued earlier in 1999, the CBI argued that the proposed Directive would "constitute an unacceptable breach of the principle of subsidiarity" and that its "one size fits all" approach to information and consultation would be "counterproductive" given the "diversity of business structures and needs and differing national employee relations traditions".

Although the present UK government has welcomed the extension of the European Works Councils Directive to the UK, it is opposed to an EU Directive on informing and consulting employees within companies operating solely at a national level. The government is "concerned that EU legislation on national-level arrangements would be inconsistent with the principle of subsidiarity and would cut across existing practices in Member States to no benefit, placing excessive burdens on business".

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