Breakthrough in the U.K.
Despite the British government's refusal to adopt the European Union's social policies covering the establishment of consultative company works councils, such a form of employee participation is now being introduced in United Kingdom companies, according to a recent Financial Times report.
This type of joint labour-management cooperation received a boost when Electrolux, a world class household appliance manufacturer (with 60,000 employees in its European plants) agreed to establish a Europe-wide works council, which would include its 8,000 employees in the United Kingdom. The company's UK human resources director explained that works councils are company policy and are not affected by official government policies.
The Electrolux agreement is significant because it is the largest of its kind negotiated by a transnational corporation in Europe. It will consist of 22 employee representatives covering its European workforce, each serving a three year term. The council will meet annually, but additional meetings may be called for specific purposes. The agreement states that the council will provide "a forum for the provision of information from group management." Discussions will include the company's overall performance, mergers and acquisitions strategy, marketing, and the development of new products. Works council members will be trained by the company in the English language, business, finance, and accounting, and the company will fund all the operations of the council.
It is expected that other foreign-owned transnational companies in the United Kingdom will also establish works councils with British employees' participation.
This development proves that the North Sea and Britain's long tradition of hostile labour relations is no match for the march towards more cooperative forms of labour-management relations that have been practised for some time in the rest of Europe. Time will tell whether they inaugurate a fundamental change in the United Kingdom or merely cosmetic ones.