Employee consultation legislation finalised

The final text of the Regulations implementing the EU employee consultation Directive in Britain received parliamentary approval in December 2004. The legislation will come into force in April 2005, applying initially to undertakings with 150 or more employees.

The final version of the Information and Consultation of Employees (ICE) Regulations 2004 was approved by both Houses of the UK Parliament in December 2004. The Regulations are intended to implement the requirements of the 2002 EU Directive (2002/14/EC) on informing and consulting employees (EU0204207F).

Draft Regulations were published in July 2003 (UK0307106F) and subsequently amended in July 2004 in the light of a public consultation exercise and ongoing discussions with employer and trade union bodies (UK0407104F), but few major changes were made. The government incorporated a number of further detailed amendments prior to laying the final version of the Regulations before Parliament for approval. The House of Commons formally approved the Regulations on 20 December without debate, though they had been briefly considered by a committee on delegated legislation on 16 December. The Lords approved the Regulations after a short debate on 21 December.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has also finalised its guidance for employers on complying with their legal obligations under the Regulations, taking account of comments received on an earlier draft.

The Regulations will take effect on 6 April 2005. This is one of the UK’s two 'harmonised' dates each year for the commencement of new employment legislation (UK0402102N), but is two weeks later than the 23 March 2005 transposition deadline set by the Directive. The new legislation will initially apply to undertakings with at least 150 employees. Undertakings with 100 or more employees will be covered as from 6 April 2007, and those with at least 50 from 6 April 2008. The Regulations apply to Great Britain. Separate but similar Regulations will apply in Northern Ireland. However, the specified employment thresholds relate to the UK as a whole.

The legislation is highly significant in that, for the first time, Britain will shortly have a general statutory framework giving employees the right to insist on being informed and consulted by their employers on a range of key business, employment and restructuring issues. Undertakings with existing information and consultation agreements which have the support of employees will be able to continue to operate them, but in other circumstances employees will be able to trigger negotiations with their employer to agree new information and consultation arrangements. If the negotiations do not produce an agreement, statutory information and consultation arrangements will become applicable by default.

Employment relations minister Gerry Sutcliffe said that the legislation 'heralds an important move towards better partnership in the workplace' and urged employers and employees to make the most of the 'groundbreaking' new provisions.

The approach taken by the government in the Regulations reflects a framework agreed in discussions between ministers and representatives of the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress in 2003. This provided the basis for important elements of the Regulations where the Directive allows flexibility in the application of its requirements by EU Member States.

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