Commission launches second phase of consultations on national information and consultation

Following the receipt of responses to the first round of consultations with the EU-level social partners on national information and consultation, the European Commission decided in November 1997 to launch the second phase of consultations. This enables the social partners either to return an opinion within six weeks or to decide to start autonomous negotiations with a view to reaching a framework agreement on the issue.

On 5 November 1997, the European Commission decided to launch the second phase of consultations with the European social partners on the possible content of European Union legislation in the field of information and consultation of employees at the national level. The first phase of consultations, which aimed to establish the social partners' opinion on the advisability of legislation in this field was launched upon an initiative by Padraig Flynn, the commissioner for employment, industrial relations and social affairs in June 1997 in the wake of the Renault Vilvoorde crisis (EU9706132F). The social partner organisations responded to this first document by October (EU9710157N): while there was agreement on the importance of the information and consultation of workers as part of company management, there was a significant divergence of opinion on the desirability of Community legislation in this field. While the trade union side expressed itself in favour of EU-level regulation, the employer side firmly rejected such an initiative, arguing in particular that such a move would be in contravention of the principle of subsidiarity.

In a press release of 5 November, the Commission stated that it has now carefully considered the responses received and has decided to put forward a set of possible measures aimed at: establishing the fundamental right of workers to be consulted and informed on decisions likely to affect them; developing effective mechanisms for anticipation and preventing the possible social consequences of industrial change and restructuring; and strengthening the link between information and consultation on strategic and social issues.

Having concluded that such gaps can be filled only by recourse to the establishment of an EU-level framework, the Commission has put forward a set of measures in three main fields:

  • the establishment of forward planning mechanisms for employment management, allowing early identification of any negative social consequences of change, particularly on employment, and effective provisions to protect the jobs or enhance the employability of those affected;
  • the establishment of permanent, structured mechanisms for informing and consulting employees on firms' strategic and economic decisions; and
  • the introduction of effective sanctions, of a proportional and dissuasive nature, to be applied in case of violation of workers' fundamental right to be informed and consulted in advance about decisions likely to affect them significantly.

The social partners now have six weeks either to submit their opinion on the document, or to decide to negotiate an agreement themselves under the Agreement on Social Policy (which will be incorporated in Article 118b of the new Treaty). The latter is clearly the option preferred by the Commission. In the event that the social partners should choose this path, they will have a period of nine month to negotiate an agreement. Should such an accord be reached, as was previously the case in respect of parental leave and part-time work (EU9706131F), the social partners can then decide to submit this agreement to the Commission to be adopted via a Council decision, or they can chose to see it adopted in accordance with the practices of each Member State.

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