How the councils work

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The Independent Online
What are European Works Councils?

They are European-wide forums for the exchange of information between companies and employees as laid down by a directive under the MaastrichtTreaty. The councils should also be used by management to consult their workers on big decisions.

Which companies will have to establish them?

All those with 1,000 employees in the European Union, which also have at least 150 workers in two EU countries. Workers employed at British sites do not count.

Does the directive affect British companies?

Yes, if they meet the criteria.

Are they compulsory?

Yes. If the companies that qualify have not set up a council voluntarily by 22 September this year, Brussels will dictate the form of negotiation.

Didn't the opt-out from Maastricht exempt UK companies?

No. The opt-out only means that companies do not have to include British workers on works councils.

Will companies nevertheless include their UK workers?

Yes. Most multinationals believe it would be both churlish and unworkable to exclude British workers. In any case, Continental unions will oppose works councils' constitutions if they ignore British workers. All 75 UK and foreign companies that have so far established structures have included workers from this country.

Can British companies which meet the criteria, ignore the directive?

Only if fewer than 100 employees decide they want a works council.

Why haven't we heard more about them?

British multinationals don't necessarily want to be seen to be ignoring the opt-out by involving UK workers. Companies also want to draw up systems that give them a competitive edge.