LRD Booklets August 2000

European works councils - an LRD guide


European works councils (EWCs) have been up and running in UK companies for several years. More than 80 UK-based employers have an EWC and hundreds of companies based outside the UK include UK representatives on their EWCs.

EWCs can help trade unionists respond to employers who take decisions on a European or indeed global basis.

Trade unionists from the UK can make links with colleagues from other European countries, agree a joint approach to management on key issues and can compare notes across Europe. Through the EWC UK trade unionists can also gain rights to much greater information about the company they work for than is the case under current UK legislation.

However, it is only since 15 January 2000 that the UK has been fully covered by European Union legislation on EWCs. This change means that more UK companies are covered and UK representatives have new rights.

This booklet is aimed at trade unionists and employee representatives who are setting up an EWC for the first time and those who already have one. It looks at the UK regulations and the way that they relate to the EWC directive.

The booklet gives examples of good practice from the EWC agreements signed so far - relevant to new agreements and to many older agreements which are now coming up for renegotiation or are being affected by company mergers.

It also examines what to do once an EWC has been set up, giving examples of successes and failures and indicating the elements that lead to success and how they can be fostered. Getting an EWC agreement is only the first step. The crucial question is how it can be made to work in the interest of the employees.

What is a European works council?

A European works council (EWC) is a body which brings together employee representatives in a multinational company from across Europe. Typically the members will be the senior lay employee representatives from each country where the company has operations, although some smaller sites may not be included. The EWC normally meets at least once a year and where there are major changes, such as substantial restructuring, it may meet more often.

The role of the EWC is to be informed and consulted by senior management at European level on the group's performance and prospects. Discussion will typically cover the group's annual results, position in the market and broad plans for the future. Substantial changes in the group's structure, such as major take-overs or closures are also likely to be discussed, although probably after the key decisions have been taken. The EWC may also become involved in discussing and drawing up some aspects of group policy at European level, such as common health and safety standards or equal opportunities aims.

The EWC is not just a meeting with European management. At each EWC meeting, always before the session with management and increasingly frequently afterwards as well, there is also a meeting of all the employee representatives on their own. This gives them a chance to compare notes and develop their own initiatives. The costs of all the meetings are borne by the employer. These include paid time-off, travel, accommodation and interpretation.

Most EWCs also have a steering committee, normally made up of senior representatives from several European states, to co-ordinate developments between meetings and discuss the agenda with senior management.