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Wall of Silence Employers

July 8 2003 - The Work Foundation has warned that the DTI's plans to make organisations consult their employees about business decisions are facing a huge challenge in trying to change the attitudes and practice of the many companies hostile to employee consultation and information disclosure.

The Work Foundation welcomed the DTI's consulation document, High Performance Workplaces - informing and consulting employees, and the CBI and TUC's contribution. The Work Foundation also called for a major information and guidance campaign designed to persuade companies of the benefits of collective consultation, along with targets to reveal if business practice changes as much as Ministers want.

Will Hutton, chief executive of The Work Foundation, said: "These proposals have the potential to transform the way this country conducts relations at work. The DTI's framework approach allows organisations to build on good practice, and means far more organisations stand to benefit from the new, more productive climate offered by open dialogue between employers and employees.

"Even the way the proposals have been designed in partnership between Government, CBI and TUC represents a welcome new model, and gives these controversial proposals much greater chances of success".

He continued, "The challenge is going to be with the many organisations for whom a wall of silence has become a way of life in their relations with employees. The Government's own data shows that consultation is actually declining. Although there is much excellent practice among leading and progressive employers, Ministers must plan for a sustained campaign of information and guidance so that the rest of business sees the benefits of complying with the new legislation.

"Given the scale of change implied by these proposals, it makes sense for Ministers to target what scale of change they are looking for. The Government's own Workplace Employee Relations Survey [WERS] regularly reveals the extent of consultation and should be used to track the impact of these proposals".

"There is also now an onus on the CBI and other employer bodies to take active steps to help persuade business that productivity and competitiveness stand to gain from a constructive approach to consultation and the new proposals.

"For the TUC and unions, the challenge is to equip themselves for a new level of dialogue with employers. In a new era of consultation it will not be enough to fall back on traditional opposition to business plans. Employers who take consultation and partnership seriously are entitled to look to workforce representatives for highly constructive and expert input to their business plans.

"New consultation law is also likely to require a major training offensive by employers and unions to ensure that representatives are equipped to cope with the challenges of more frequent and demanding dialogue about business plans. The scale of the Government's Partnership Fund will need to be reviewed, so that it can help increase the scale of such training."

The Work Foundation also expressed reservations about the long timescale for introduction of the legislation. It questioned the case for delaying implementation until 2008 for companies with at least 50 employees, and 2007 for those with at least one hundred employees.

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