Impact of consultation and information process

A Europe-wide study, using case studies from six countries including Bulgaria, has looked at the impact of the European Union’s Directive on information and consultation. It also looked at how European Works Councils were performing. The study was part of the INFORMIA II project promoted by the Confederation of the Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria, and makes it possible for Bulgarian firms to be compared with those in Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Background

The purpose of the INFORMIA II research project was to study the impact of the recast of the European Union’s Directive on information and consultation. It also aimed to look at the links between national and European level in this context in a number of EU Member States and candidate countries. Informia II was promoted by the Confederation of the Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB).

The study also examined the impact of the information and consultation process, with a focus on European Works Councils (EWCs). It looked at its impact on productivity, competitiveness, corporate governance, labour and social issues. The study compared results from countries with a long tradition of free market economies against those in which a market economy has only emerged within the past 20 years.

About the survey

The survey was carried out in the spring of 2012. The research team agreed to carry out at least two case studies per country, mainly in companies with subsidiaries in all or in most of the partner countries.

The case studies in four main sectors and in seven companies were conducted. In the chemical industry the researchers looked at Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) in the UK and Ireland, and Solvay in Bulgaria. In the food and drinks industry, the Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company was investigated in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Italy and Ireland. Coca-Cola Enterprises was partially researched in the UK.

In tourism, the Hilton Hotel group in Cyprus was studied, while in financial services the UniCredit Group in Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy and the UK was researched, along with Societe Generale and the Popular Bank in Cyprus. A case study of AVIVA in Ireland from the insurance sector was also carried out.

Key issues

The research found that information and consultation in the Bulgarian subsidiaries of multinational companies examined was mainly used for the improvement of decisions on labour and social issues. It was also used in issues concerning corporate governance, competitiveness and productivity.

In most of the countries and in the companies included in the survey, many key issues have emerged through the EWCs. Among the main issues discussed by EWCs have been:

  • business strategy;
  • economic issues and organisational change;
  • production changes;
  • employment and training issues;
  • health and safety at work;
  • equal opportunities;
  • issues of corporate social responsibility.

The processes of information and consultation were relatively well developed in two-thirds of the subsidiaries investigated in Bulgaria. Chemicals company Solvay and the UniCredit Group, for example, had both integrated information and consultation into their industrial relations strategy. Trade unions connected with the companies were also well integrated in the information and consultation structures. This was true both at national and EWC level.

In a third of the Bulgarian subsidiaries studied, there was a trend towards the isolation of trade unions from the process of information and consultation. This was put down to low trade union density and to the tendency of the employers to use mechanisms for informing staff that did not include the involvement of unions.

This way of working could be seen in, for instance, drinks and bottling firm Coca Cola HBC, and some of the subsidiaries of chemical and financial service companies in the partner countries.

Problem areas

Some particular problems appeared in Bulgaria along with the other partner countries.

A lack of employee interest was quite evident. It was also noted that there was very limited information available on how to use the structures. Most of the newly-elected members of EWCs were left to develop their own expertise, though they did receive some general training from national and European level trade unions.

In most countries EWC decisions had either very limited or no influence at all on national collective agreements. This was especially true in Bulgaria, Cyprus and the UK.

Another problem revealed by the study was that forming a link between the EWCs and any national information and consultation arrangements, or with the workforce, was very much up to the individual EWC members to organise.

In Bulgaria, Cyprus and Croatia there were some concerns regarding freedom of expression, caused by fear of management reaction. Such fears were also caused by the interpretation of the provisions regarding secrecy of information – which is part of the information and consultation directives – and by the mechanism of their implementation at national level.

Commentary

A number of problems and concerns were highlighted in the study. Despite this, both employers and trade union representatives recognised the importance of the information and consultation process and the EWC system. They felt the system was a positive step towards improving the sustainability of companies and better workers’ rights.

Ekaterina Ribarova, ISTUR

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