Irish employers are faced with a large and increasing raft of employment legislation. These pieces of legislation can result from Government initiatives. Others have arisen from the need to update or replace earlier legislation. But the triggers are not all internal to Ireland. Some arise by virtue of our membership of the EU.
For example, an EU directive from 2002 required EU member states to oblige employers to put in place information and consultation arrangements with employees. In Ireland this was achieved through the Employers (Provision of Information and Consultation) Act of 2006, updated in 2013.
The core of the legislation provides for the establishment of a so-called Information and Consultation Forum (ICF) within businesses – whether by an initiative of the company itself or as a result of a written request from at least 10% of the workforce.
Note though that the requirement does not hold for all employers. It only applies to businesses with at least 50 employees. This threshold was established by the EU to “avoid any administrative, financial or legal constraints which would hinder the creation and development of small and medium-sized undertakings”. Consistent with this, there is a provision for a previously established forum to be dissolved if the number of employees falls below the 50 threshold, if the number stays below that threshold for 12 months, and if either the employer or a majority of the employees so request.
Though ICFs can be established in response to a request from employees, it is also a good idea for a company to proactively establish an ICF without waiting to be formally requested to do so. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, if the company decides to proceed with establishing an ICF, they are doing so in a planned and systematic way. But they are also doing so in a willing way. If an employer only does so in response to an employee request, such establishment could be interpreted as a purely reactionary measure – that the company is only doing so because it is required to.
Secondly, if a company is taking the initiative rather than just reacting, then they are more inclined to do a better job – as they are doing so at a time that fits in alongside their normal operations and other initiatives. This would be in marked contrast to a company being caught flat-footed.
Both of these reasons can also provide a positive PR story for an employer – though that it is best seen as a side-benefit. ICFs have merit in themselves. If their establishment by an employer happens to bring with it some PR benefits then that is simply a bonus.
So there is an argument for why employers should consider being proactive in the establishment of an ICF. But there are also certain alarm bells that companies should be listening for – any of which should cause a company to consider the establishment of an ICF. These include:
- a culture of complaints from the workforce
- normal workplace operations indicating a lack of understanding by employees of the company’s thinking
- an atmosphere of suspicion between employees and the company
- the company being increasingly surprised by the actions and/or utterances of the workforce
Informing and consulting employees bring other benefits to a company:
- Rumours can be reduced.
- Misunderstandings can be avoided.
- Trust can be increased.
- Employees who truly feel heard before management make decisions are more accepting of decisions then made by management.
- Employees’ performance and productivity can be enhanced by them having a crystal-clear understanding of what is expected from them.
- Employees’ involvement in making critical business decisions can help the business become more effective.
- Business awareness increases among the general workforce with a greater understanding of how individual roles connect to organisational goals.
- Organisational capacity to change is enhanced and strengthened.
An ICF can also serve to improve communications in general within a workplace – not just within the forum itself. Firstly, if it is operated correctly, the existence of an ICF can demonstrate to employees that the company is honestly endeavouring to facilitate enhanced communications. Secondly, the ICF will implicitly train its participants, for example, elected employee representatives, in communications skills –those skills will then get utilised within the workplace in a broader context, for example, in project work, customer care, etc. (Of course focussed explicit training too can be of benefit. To that end, InsightHR has developed training programmes to help prepare elected employee representatives and management. For more detail see here.)
This is a complex area and it is important to get skilled advice if considering the setting up of an ICF – be that as a result of an employer initiative or in reaction to a request from employees. To get expert guidance in the area, call Mary Cullen, Patrick Foley or Liam Barton on 056 770 1060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.