© 2004
Interview with Prof Dr Jeremy Waddington, British EWC researcher

FotoFotoQuestion: Jeremy you have recently conducted the largest survey of European Works Council representatives to date, what are the most important results of your study?

Waddington: The key findings of the survey are: The minimum requirements on information and consultation as specified in the Directive are not being met. As a result, the intentions of the Commission and the Council regarding information and consultation in multi-national companies are not being implemented in practice. This finding applies both to the range of items covered in the agenda of European works councils and to the quality of information and consultation that takes place. In practice, managements are not releasing the required information and, too often, are either not prepared to consult or consult only after a decision has been reached.

I should also point out, however, that there is evidence of some improvement over time. In particular, over the last five years there is some evidence that the breadth of the agenda of European works councils has widened. In other words, the situation is improving, but the minimum terms specified in the Directive are still not being met at many European works councils. The two key findings thus do not contradict each other.

It should also be noted that the views of EWC representatives vary. EWC representatives based in the same country as the company and office holders within the European works council are usually less critical of the practices of European works councils than are nationals from a country other than the company and those that are just members of the EWC. Furthermore, EWC representatives from the Nordic countries tend to be the most critical of EWC practices.

Question: How often does company restructuring appear as a topic for European works councils?

Waddington: It is one of the most important transnational issues for workers' representatives. About 80% of the EWC representatives reported that restructuring had taken place within the company during the last three years. However, only one-in-four EWC representatives was informed in an appropriate form and consulted in a timely manner by European management. Again, this finding indicates that the intentions of the legislators are not being met in practice.

Question: The European Commission would like to treat the revision of the EWC Directive and the restructuring topic in one single legislative procedure, does this make sense?

Waddington: In the long run I regard this dovetailing as problematic. A European works council is more than an agency to assist restructuring. The brief of European works councils is much broader. To link the two items is to suggest that the agenda of European works councils should be restricted.

Question: Have company mergers and acquisitions had an impact on EWCs?

Waddington: In recent years we have witnessed a substantial wave of mergers in Europe as companies have responded to globalisation and initiatives around the Single European Market. The extent of this merger wave has raised a range of questions concerning the continuity of European works council representation. Time and time again EWC representatives report that the Directive offers them inadequate support during mergers and acquisitions. In addition, the turnover among EWC representatives is high, with the consequence the continuity is adversely affected.

Question: What do EWC representatives need most urgently from the legislator and from trade unions?

Waddington: Above all the EWC representatives want the institution to work. To achieve this objective they require a more exact definition of adequate information and consultation in the Directive, which would include issues such as the form in which information is made available and the timing of both information disclosure and consultation. Specific rights in cases of company restructuring would also be welcomed by EWC representatives. It is also clear that many managers define restructuring that occurs within a multi-national company, but within a single country as beyond the scope of the EWC Directive. This is not consistent with the spirit of the Directive: if a multi-national company restructures the EWC representatives want such restructuring to be viewed by definition as falling within the scope of the Directive.

Similarly, EWC representatives require more support from trade unions in the form of training, advice and guidance, together with the development of clearly defined roles for both European works councils and trade unions. There are still too many EWCs that are inadequately supported by trade unions.

Question: What distinguishes European works councils within Anglo-Saxon based companies from European works councils that operate within continental-based companies?

Waddington: In British and American companies the EWC has a narrower agenda, and the quality of information and consultation is lower. EWC representatives based in Anglo-Saxon companies must take a more wide-ranging initiative on the agenda if they are to ensure that it is of the same quality as that within continental-owned companies. Managers in Anglo-Saxon owned companies are thus more resistant to releasing information and engaging in consultation. Over the medium-term this situation may change with the new legislation in the United Kingdom which requires an information exchange and consultation within the workplace, but the point remains that now managers in the UK are not experienced in such practices and some are resistant to them.

Jeremy Waddington is Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Manchester, UK since 2000 after eleven years as research fellow at the University of Warwick. Additionally he is project coordinator of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI-REHS) in Brussels since 1998.     → More information on the person

The interview was carried out by Werner Altmeyer on November 4th, 2005 in Brussels.

Further information:

Summary of the research results
(4 pages)
Statistical data of the survey
(21 pages)

Diese Seite in deutscher Sprache
Cette page en francais