UK thumbs up to works councils

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The Independent Online
British multinationals have proved far more enthusiastic about setting up European works councils than their Continental counterparts with just 48 hours to go before a critical deadline imposed from Brussels expires.

Up to a third of UK companies which qualify have set up procedures for consulting and informing employees compared with little more than 10 per cent of German and French companies. And despite the Government's opt- out from the social chapter of the Maastricht Treaty, all have included British workers on the councils.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, calculates that 45 UK businesses have decided to establish consultative procedures under a voluntary arrangement which expires tomorrow instead of waiting for a potentially more cumbersome compulsory negotiating process imposed under a European directive.

Another 35 organisations - which qualify under the directive because they employ more than 1,000 workers in the European Union with 150 in each of two countries - are said to be negotiating with the GMB.

John Cridland, director of human resources at the CBI, who estimates that nearer 25 companies have signed voluntary agreements, argues that British multinationals have simply chosen to sign tailor-made voluntary deals than wait for the more prescriptive directive to be introduced.

Unlike German and French companies which are more used to a regulated business environment, UK groups are anxious to avoid restrictions imposed by the European Union, Mr Cridland said. "This has got nothing to do with companies ignoring the European opt-out, it is a business decision." Ruth Lea, of the Institute of Directors, said that it was the "lesser of two evils".

The latest of the companies to agree a works council was Barclays.