UK: New research highlights limited impact of ICE regulations

A report commissioned by Acas examines the incidence, composition and operation of joint consultative committees in UK workplaces. Findings show an aggregate stability in workplace level joint consultative committees between 2004 and 2011, a decline in higher-level consultative committees, and an increase in management using more restrictive consultative approaches.

Background

Commissioned by the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Sevice (Acas), a report published in April 2014, Joint Consultative committees under the information and consultation of employees regulations: A WERS analysis (373 KB PDF), assesses the impact of the introduction of the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations (ICE), which came into operation in 2005. To do this, the study used data from the Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS) to examine the incidence, composition and operation of joint consultative committees (JCCs) in UK workplaces.

The WERS aims to map employment relations in the UK over time, inform employment relations policy and stimulate debate regarding it; it also seeks to provide a comprehensive and reliable database for public use and for further analysis. From a series of six phases of the WERS going back to 1980, the report uses data from 2004 and 2011 (the two most recent phases). The 2004 phase was undertaken just before the introduction of new regulations relating to consultation. 

In order to implement the information and consultation directive, the UK’s ICE regulations established a general statutory framework that gives employees the right to be informed and consulted by their employers on key business issues. The regulations apply to organisations with 50 or more employees. The form of the regulations means that employers have a considerable degree of latitude in their response, in terms of both procedure and also the substantive arrangements made for consultation.

Questions about consultative arrangements have been a staple of successive phases of the WERS. JCCs are defined as in the WERS questionnaires as ‘committees of managers and employees at [the] workplace [that are] primarily concerned with consultation rather than negotiation’ and are one way in which an employer can comply with the ICE regulations. 

The research was carried out by Duncan Adam (Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick), John Purcell (School of Management, University of Bath), and Mark Hall (Industrial Relations Research Unit, University of Warwick).

Research objectives

The research aimed to supplement the analysis in the WERS source book and to place the findings in the context of wider research into consultation at work. The paper is based on quantitative analysis of the WERS data.

The report considered the following issues:

  • the incidence of JCCs, looking at both workplace and higher-level JCCs;

  • the operation of JCCs, including the membership of the committees;

  • approaches taken to consultation;

  • outcomes associated with consultation.

The paper pays particular attention to the effects of the ICE regulations, focusing therefore on workplaces belonging to organisations with more than 50 employees.

Ffindings of Acas report

  • The incidence of workplace level JCCs remained broadly stable (9% in 2004 and 8% in 2011).

  • In 2011, some 25% of workplaces had some form of JCC (either workplace and/or higher-level) compared with 34% in 2004. This fall is almost entirely accounted for by the decline in higher-level JCCs.

  • Some 13% of workplaces covered by the ICE regulations had workplace-level JCCs in both 2004 and 2011.

  • There was a significant increase (significant at the 10% level) in the incidence of workplace-level JCCs where the size of the organisation was between 100 and 149 employees. The incidence had increased from 9% in 2004 to 20% in 2011.

Incidence of JCCs

In workplaces covered by the ICE regulations, the proportion of JCCs that had union representation fell from 35% to 32% between 2004 and 2011. Therefore, there was a corresponding increase in JCCs composed entirely of non-union employee representatives, from 65% to 68%. The study also considered the situation of ‘hybrid’ JCCs – those where the employee representatives on the committee were a mix of union and non-union representatives. In workplaces with union recognition, the proportion of hybrid JCCs rose from 11% to 15% between 2004 and 2011. This was at the expense of slight reductions in the proportions of both union-only and non-union JCCs. The study also found little evidence of unions seeking to ‘colonise’ JCCs in workplaces without union recognition. This finding supports earlier work, which found that unions were largely ambivalent towards the ICE regulations, perhaps viewing the extension of consultation as a threat to the traditional union-based ‘single channel’ method of employee representation.

JCCs continue to be more prevalent in larger workplaces and workplaces that are part of a wider organisation. Despite a marked decline in the proportion of public-sector workplaces with JCCs, it remains the case that JCCs are more common in the public sector. JCCs are also more common in foreign-owned or foreign-controlled workplaces. The ‘age of the workplace’ variable shows that JCCs are common in workplaces less than five years old, and also in older workplaces; this may be tentative evidence of some type of regulatory effect. JCCs are also strongly associated with the recognition and presence of trade unions at the workplace and where human resources practice is more sophisticated. Positive management attitudes towards unions and consultation, and the use of other forms of employee communications and involvement, all indicate a greater likelihood of JCC presence.

Operation, managerial approach and outcomes

Discussion of pay issues was found to be more common in non-union JCCs than in JCCs that had some union presence, suggesting that JCCs operate alongside collective bargaining arrangements rather than as an alternative. Similarly, little evidence was found that direct methods of communication with employees are replacing representative-based consultation: the activities tend to be complementary.

There has been an increase in managers reporting that their usual approach to consultation is based on seeking feedback on a single option. This was reported in the WERS source book as an increase from 12% to 20%. Looking only at the workplaces covered by the ICE regulations, the increase is from 15% to 22%. According to worker representatives, this increase in the most restrictive form of consultation was even more pronounced – from 9% to 28%. Management responses regarding the influence of JCCs reveal that – despite the increase in the restrictive form of consultation – management viewed JCCs as more effective when the approach was based on a more collaborative approach (one based on either seeking solutions to problems or seeking feedback on a range of options). Thus, the research finds that JCCs can be exert influence on management decisions, but are more likely to have influence where management fosters supportive conditions. In common with other research, the study found that consultation did not have significant associations with individual measures of employee commitment, nor with business measures. 

Commentary

The findings confirm earlier work that has suggested a general ambivalence towards the ICE regulations on the part of employers, employees and unions. The research highlights both the limitations of the framework in terms of increasing the coverage of consultation and the limitations regarding the way in which consultation is conducted, as evidenced by the increases in more restrictive forms of consultation. The topic of consultation remains prominent in debate: in July 2014, the TUC put forward proposals aimed at strengthening the ICE regulations.

 

 

 

 

 

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