Publisher required by law to disclose company data
In February 2006, the Central Arbitration Committee upheld a complaint under the United Kingdom’s employee consultation regulations that Macmillan Publishers had failed to respond adequately to a trade union’s request for information on company structure and employment levels.
On 22 February 2006, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) ordered Macmillan Publishers to disclose to the trade union, Amicus, data on the establishments, sites and/or plants that constitute the company’s undertaking for the purposes of the 2004 Information and Consultation of Employees (ICE) Regulations (UK0502103N). The CAC also ordered that Macmillan should divulge the number of employees at each location. This ruling follows a complaint by Amicus alleging that Macmillan Publishers had failed to respond adequately to a request by the union under Regulation 6(1) for information about the structure of the company and the numbers of employees employed at different sites.
Following an earlier complaint by Amicus to the CAC that the company had not replied to its request for information (UK0512101N), Macmillan Publishers informed the union of the total number of staff employed in the UK, amounting to 1,350 people. However, the publisher did not respond to subsequent union requests for further information about which establishments form part of the undertaking and the numbers of employees employed in each case.
Diverging views on ICE Regulation requirements
Macmillan Publishers’ view was that the ICE Regulations did not require it to supply the data requested by the union. It argued that it had already supplied sufficient data for the purposes of calculating the number of people employed by the undertaking, in line with Regulation 5, and that there was no requirement to give a breakdown of the undertaking by site. Macmillan’s UK employees are covered by a staff consultative committee that has been in existence for some 25 years, and the company believed that the union was now mounting a campaign to take control of these consultation arrangements.
However, the union argued that data provided by the company were incomplete, and insisted that the company’s failure to disclose the whereabouts of the relevant establishments and employee numbers per establishment made it impossible for employees to exercise their legal rights under the regulations. It was not clear, for example, whether Macmillan Publishers constituted the undertaking, or which organisational units were part of the undertaking within the meaning of the regulations. Nor were the employees in a position to verify the employment figures disclosed by the company.
The CAC panel decided that the language of the regulations indicated that ‘more than just a total [employment] figure may in some circumstances have to be disclosed’. Moreover, the recipient of the information should be enabled to make the calculation of the number of employees in the undertaking and determine what number of employees would constitute the 10% threshold for an employee request for negotiations. The recipient should also be able to check the data disclosed, and form a view on whether the data were false or incomplete in order to make a complaint to the CAC.
The CAC panel concluded that the union was entitled to the data it had requested and that its complaint was well-founded in that the data provided by the employer were incomplete. It therefore ordered Macmillan Publishers to disclose to Amicus, by 6 March 2006, information on the establishments making up the undertaking and the number of employees at each location.
Trade unions are likely to welcome the interpretation placed by the CAC on the ICE Regulations’ provisions on entitlement to data about employee numbers. Its ruling that, in complex organisations, data on corporate structure as well as employment levels may need to be disclosed could prove to be highly useful to unions in terms of developing company-specific organising strategies.
Mark Hall, Industrial Relations Research Unit (IRRU), Warwick Business School