Employee representation

Does your business consult and negotiate with employees and their elected representatives in the context of collective bargaining?

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Employee representation is the establishment of mechanisms enabling workers and employees to be consulted and collectively bargain on their terms and conditions of employment in the context of legally recognising an independent trade union for this purpose (as per UK legislation). It is also about maintaining good workforce relations and empowering workers and employees.

Whatever the size or type of organisation, people need to engage in meaningful communication with each other. They need to give and take instructions, exchange views and ideas, discuss solutions to problems and consider future developments. However, it is recognised that while there should wherever possible be harmonious relationships between management and staff, there will not always be communality of interest, thus ensuring the need for collective bargaining at the appropriate juncture. Without freedom of association and respect for trade union rights, there can be no employee representation.

Different organisations will have different needs and methods for consultation with staff. Small ones generally have more informal methods, often through direct contact with employees such as a manager walking around and talking to people. Nevertheless, this should not be used as a substitute for or undermining of collective agreements. Larger businesses lend themselves to more formal structures, the nature of which would be a subject for the bargaining agenda. Staff forums may include electronic communication (e-mails, newsletters and online questionnaires etc.), group meetings and one-on-one meetings but, as in smaller firms, none of these tools should be deployed to sabotage existing agreements arising from collective bargaining. A point to consider is that consultation is not briefing, it is dialogue and has specific connotations in workplaces where trade unions are recognised, pursuant to UK and European legislation. According to the ACAS Code of Practice, disclosure of information to trade unions for collective bargaining purposes includes pay and benefits, employee numbers, performance and financial data.

An independent trade union (or labour union) may represent company employees, based on particular industrial sectors or work skills. Alternatively, or in addition, there may be internal company bodies, such as permanent workers councils, worker representatives at Board level, or temporary groups that arise to address a particular issue. Professional associations and institutions, often bodies with self-regulatory legal status, may also represent the interests of their members. However, only the trade union enjoys a legal status commensurate with its independence and as such is indispensable to any notion of employee representation.

Drafting policies and defining specific practices can be a good starting point and foundation for employee communications and consultation. A policy statement can provide an effective means of setting out the values and philosophy of the organisation and would include a commitment to collective bargaining with, as far as possible, a directly-employed workforce, i.e. PAYE employees as opposed to sub-contracted or self- employed workers.

Collective bargaining

'Collective bargaining' is a process by which employers and recognised trade unions seek to reach a negotiated agreement on issues such as pay and terms and conditions of employment. Both employer and trade union take responsibility for fulfilling the bargain. Unions and collective organisation rights are principally governed by The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 which was amended by the Employment Relations Act 1999 and the Employment Relations Act 2004 though there is separate legislation for Northern Ireland.

Answering YES

All Businesses MUST

state their business sector and number of employees

explain if, how and why any functions are outsourced or subcontracted

describe how they consult and collectively bargain as defined above, with employees and their trade union representatives

state if they have a protocol in place to encourage trade union membership

state which trade union or unions they recognise for collective bargaining or explain why they do not recognise an independent trade union

All Businesses MAY

state any philosophy or values which influence their approach to consultation and collective bargaining with the workforce

mention some of the issues that are the subjects of consultation

explain how they encourage or promote workers to participate in the decision-making process by being union members

indicate how they assess and/or measure employee perceptions of being listened to/involved in decision-making

provide examples of how they comply with labour legislation and ILO conventions

offer an example of how meaningful consultation has had an impact in the organisation and on decision-making

B) Large and Multinational Corporations (MNCs) MUST

confirm that they are committed to a mature system of employee relations

mention if their employee consultation practices differ from one country to another and explain any differences, if they exist

confirm that they engage in collective bargaining with independent trade unions in all countries of operation, even if legal standards differ in certain countries

confirm that they comply with ILO core conventions relating to freedom of association, collective bargaining and labour rights in addition to complying with local legislation

Answering NO

All Businesses MUST

state their business sector and number of employees

explain why they do not or cannot answer YES to this question, listing the business reasons, any mitigating circumstances or other reasons that apply

All Businesses MAY

state any philosophy or key values which influence their approach to employee representation

describe any relevant employee communication and consultation, even if they do not meet the specifications for answering YES

mention any future intentions regarding this issue

Answering NOT APPLICABLE

All Businesses MUST

confirm that they are made up of directors only and have no employees

DON'T KNOW is not a permissible answer to this question

Version 1

To receive a score of 'Excellent'

Employee representation is of key strategic importance for the organisation

e.g. employee representation is a key part of their philosophy
e.g. demonstrates a strategic approach to enabling employee representation
e.g. employee voices always taken into account in decision-making
e.g. actively engages staff in promoting employee representation
e.g. actively measures employee perceptions of being listened to/involved in decision-making
e.g. actively encourages trade union membership
e.g. regularly consults and collectively bargains with employees and their trade union representatives.
e.g. independent trade unions recognised in all countries of operations
e.g. differences in consultation practices across countries are justified

To receive a score of 'Good'

Employee representation is evident in the organisation’s policies and practices

e.g. regularly consults and collectively bargains with employees and their trade union representatives
e.g. demonstrates a commitment to employee representation
e.g. a protocol is in place to encourage trade union membership
e.g. employee voices are often considered in decision
e.g. communicates policies on employee representation to employees
e.g. differences in consultation practices across countries are justified
e.g. independent trade unions recognised in all countries of operations
e.g. attempts to measure employee perceptions of being listened to/involved in decision-making

To receive a score of 'Okay'

Takes some measures to practice employee representation or clearly explains why employee representation is a peripheral issue for the business

e.g. company is made up of directors only and has no employees
e.g. employees regularly consulted on important decisions affecting company
e.g. has invited employees in encouraging trade union membership

To receive a score of 'Poor'

Company fails to adopt appropriate and credible levels of employee representation despite arguments and opportunities to do so

e.g. the organisation acknowledges performance below expectations
e.g. statement of future intent to improve
e.g. no evident efforts to practice any employee representation
e.g. no consideration of recognising unions
e.g. no mature system of employee relations
e.g. company does not recognise unions in some countries of its operations
e.g. company provides little or no justification for outsourcing functions