European social partners do not agree on EU regulation of national information and consultation

Responding to the first round of consultations on a framework EU-level regulation of worker information and consultation at the national level, launched in June 1997 by the European Commission, ETUC has signalled its broad support while UNICE has rejected the need for further EU intervention in this area.

On 4 June 1997, the European Commission opened first-stage consultations with the European-level social partner organisations on possible Community action on "Information and consultation of workers within the national framework", under the terms of the Maastricht social policy Agreement (EU9706132F). This instrument, which has been under consideration for some years, was promised by Commissioner Padraig Flynn in the aftermath of the Renault Vilvoorde affair (EU9704118F).

In its consultation document, the Commission acknowledged that most Member States already have extensive legislative provision in the area of employee information and consultation. However, it argued that in many cases the "fundamental right to information and consultation" is not sufficiently guaranteed in terms of the timing of consultation, the availability of sanctions and the scope for matters of consultation. Existing European legislation in this area is seen to be fragmented and its impact limited.

The Commission argued that a Community measure on information and consultation of workers at national level should include the following key components:

  • recognising the principle of information and consultation of worker representatives on the economic situation of the company and any decisions which might affect them as a social right;
  • defining the scope of consultations and in particular the threshold for the number of workers employed in the companies concerned;
  • entitling Member States to grant priority to agreements between the social partners;
  • laying down the principle of maintaining the most favourable system;
  • defining the level at which procedures are to be applied; and
  • referring to national legislation and/or practices for selecting worker representatives.

The initial deadline for first-stage consultations was the end of July, but the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) felt it necessary to consult in detail with its membership, and finally presented its opinion on 2 October 1997.

In its answer to the Commission, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) expresses its support for a European measure on information and consultation of workers within the national framework. It argues that any such measure should respect existing institutions and recognise the basic social right of employees and their representatives to be informed and consulted. On points of detail, ETUC argues for decisions affecting working conditions and the environment to be included in the list of issues for consultation. Any European measures should apply to all companies whether public or private and irrespective of a workforce-size threshold. ETUC argues that it should always be possible to improve such a framework, but not to derogate from it.

In its response, UNICE agrees with the Commission that information and consultation of employees is an essential element of good management. However, the European employers' organisation does not see any necessity or justification for the introduction of further EU-level measures in this area, as an extensive framework is already seen to exist. In UNICE's view, a Commission proposal for legislation would be contrary to the principle of subsidiarity given that its objectives can be achieved more effectively by other routes and at other levels of intervention.

The Commission is now expected to proceed with second-stage consultations, which could in theory lead to negotiations over a European-level agreement on the issue.

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