Belgium: Practical Insights for the European Works Council
The European Works Council Directive is an interesting and important tool for social dialogue, yet is still relatively unknown, which is why Van Olmen & Wynant organised an employment forum on the matter in September.
Some of the key insights from the forum include:
Confidentiality is an important issue. It is not always clear which information shared in the European Works Council (‘EWC’) is confidential. Often the management will be prudent with sharing confidential information if they fear that the workers’ representatives will leak the information to other workers or the media. Several practical solutions were offered by the speakers. For example, to create a smaller group within the EWC of a couple of workers’ representatives who are trusted by the management and who can vouch for the other workers. The management can then opt to share the truly sensitive information with the smaller group only. Another solution is to formally include the confidentiality procedures in the EWC-agreement, by stipulating that if certain information is confidential, this should be clearly made known in writing, as well as which specific parts of the information are confidential, the duration of the confidentiality (no information can stay confidential forever), for whom it is confidential and because of which reasons (to prevent the management from simply stipulating that all the information is to be considered as confidential).
The EWC is mostly a mechanism for information and consultation. Although it can be a very useful institution, one should not expect too much from an EWC, because in principle, it is not a body for collective bargaining. However, in several cases an EWC has been used to negotiate collective agreements or social plans. However, this should be looked at from company to company and from country to country (e.g. EWC’s that are based in France are almost never used to negotiate).
There is no perfect model-EWC. Some EWC’s are functioning almost like full parliaments, while others have only ten members. Taking the bigger EWC’s as a model often will not work for smaller companies and smaller EWC’s, which might benefit from less formality. Therefore, a good EWC is tailored to the size and needs of the company, with specific details and rules that work well with the characteristics of the structure, sector and traditions of a company.
It is important to note that there are costs (transport, meetings) associated with EWC’s, which may seem like a hindrance to the management in their decision-making process. However, an adequately working EWC has benefits for both workers and employers, as it e.g. improves top-down as well as bottom-up communications. The EWC-workers’ representatives will be able to better explain decisions of the management to the workers, enabling them to understand the motivations of their employer, resulting in a more effective execution of the decisions. However, the EWC is also a great tool for the management to get to know the complaints, worries and ideas of their employees. Most managers, therefore, say that the benefits of the EWC outweigh its costs.
Modern technology, like videoconferences, can be used to limit the costs of the functioning of an EWC. However, some speakers expressed their dislike of these methods, as it limits the interaction between the members and thus could especially hinder the efforts of the workers’ representatives, who are not otherwise accustomed to EU-scale meetings, etc. Therefore, a good balance between efficient use of modern technology and face-to-face meetings is advised.
The employment forum featured the following speakers:
- Nicolas Simon, Partner at Van Olmen & Wynant
- Geert Aelbrecht, Chief Human Resources Officer at Besix
- Delphine Rudelli, Director of European and International Relations of the Union des Industries et Métiers de la Métallurgie (UIMM) [an important employers’ organisation of the French Metal sector]
- Jan Franco, Internationaal Secretary of ACV Bouw – Industrie & Energie / CSC Bâtiment – Industrie & Energie
- Christian Jammaers, Employee representative of AG Insurance in the EWC of Ageas
We are pleased to share the presentations of the speakers with you (feel free to download using the upper left link in each presentation):
Nicolas Simon, Partner at Van Olmen & Wynant
Geert Aelbrecht, Chief Human Resources Officer at Besix
Delphine Rudelli, Director of European and International Relations of the Union des Industries et Métiers de la Métallurgie (UIMM)
Jan Franco, Internationaal Secretary of ACV Bouw – Industrie & Energie / CSC Bâtiment – Industrie & Energie
Christian Jammaers, Employee representative of AG Insurance in the EWC of Ageas