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Document 51999AC0704

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council Directive establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community'

OJ C 258, 10.9.1999, p. 24–25 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council Directive establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community'

Official Journal C 258 , 10/09/1999 P. 0024 - 0025

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "Proposal for a Council Directive establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community"

(1999/C 258/07)

On 18 December 1998 the Council, acting in according with Article 2(2) of the Protocol on Social Policy, asked the Economic and Social Committee for an Opinion on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was instructed to draw up the Committee's opinion on the matter, adopted its opinion on 15 June 1999. The rapporteur was Mrs Engelen Kefer.

The Committee adopted the opinion set out below at its 365th Plenary Session held on 7 and 8 July 1999 (meeting of 7 July) by 99 votes to one, with 10 abstentions.

1. General comments

Opinions vary among Committee members as to the appropriateness of the European Commission's Proposal for a Council Directive establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community:

Some ESC members take the view that the proposal is incompatible with the subsidiarity principle and that it also infringes the principle of proportionality by interfering excessively with national provisions. Other members take the view that - though improvements are needed, particularly a reduction in the minimum number of employees and the inclusion of the public sector - the proposal would rectify shortcomings in the laws of the individual Member States by establishing a coherent legal framework at EU level, thereby counteracting the problem of incomplete EU legislation on informing and consulting employees and meeting one of the prerequisites for successfully implementing the processes of change.

1.1. Notwithstanding these differences of opinion, the Committee wishes to make the observations set out below:

1.2. Under the European Social Charter and the 1989 Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, employees and their representatives have a basic social right to be informed and consulted on decisions which might have important consequences for them, as a fundamental provision of the European social model; account must, however, be taken of the various practices prevailing in the EU Member States(1). This basic right derives from an appreciation of the fact that employees and their representatives have an active role to play in the operation of enterprises. In this context the special role played by SMEs must be taken into account.

1.3. The act of recognizing and promoting the social rights of employees and their representatives makes a decisive contribution towards strengthening the social dimension and also helps to prevent excessive distortion of competition as a result of differences in the practices adopted by the individual Member States. This social dimension serves to ensure a more effective operation of the internal market.

1.4. The Davignon Report(2), the Green Paper on a new work organization in a spirit of partnership(3) and the Gyllenhammar Report(4) have all stated that the processes of informing and consulting may have a beneficial effect on the readiness of employees and their representatives to accept industrial restructuring. The Committee expressly endorses this view. We must have qualified, motivated employees if we are to safeguard future economic competitiveness. The employment strategy hammered out at the European Council in Luxembourg rightly underscored the important role played by the social partners in modernizing work organization and their important role in ensuring the adaptability of enterprises.

1.5. It is vital for enterprises to pursue a real, effective and far-sighted employment policy if the issue of economic restructuring is to be tackled with a view to ensuring competitiveness. Far-sighted employment policy can however only be developed in collaboration with employees and their representatives - it cannot be achieved in the absence of this collaboration. The process of informing and consulting employees is making a key contribution towards securing a readiness by employees and their representatives to successfully implement the process of change; this process is already provided for in the following Community instruments: Council Directive 92/56/EEC of 24 June 1992 amending Council Directive 75/129/EEC of 17 February 1995 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to collective redundancies; Council Directive 98/50/EC of 29 June 1998 amending Council Directive 77/187/EEC relating to the safeguarding of employees' rights in the event of transfers of undertakings, businesses or parts of businesses; and Council Directive 94/45/EC of 22 September 1994 on the establishment of a European Works Council. This process is the way to unlock the innovative capacity of employees and strengthen the competitiveness of enterprises.

1.6. The process of informing and consulting employees can help to achieve the objectives of the EU and the Member States as set out in Article 136 of the EC Treaty. These objectives are as follows:

- promotion of employment;

- improving living and working conditions with a view to achieving upward harmonization;

- proper social protection;

- dialogue between management and labour ("social dialogue");

- the development of human resources with a view to achieving lasting high employment;

- the combating of exclusion.

2. Specific comments

On the basis of the abovementioned criteria, the Committee takes the view that the principles set out below provide the basis for an effective procedure for informing and consulting employees and their representatives:

2.1. If the social dialogue and other forms of consultation are to be strengthened, it is essential that employees and their representatives are both regarded as and treated as partners. With this end in view, a comprehensive information and consultation policy will have to be pursued; employee representatives will also have to have an adequate degree of independence vis-à-vis management and to receive adequate briefing.

2.2. Comprehensive information should be provided in good time and on a regular basis by the appropriate level of management. The information should cover, in particular, any new technical developments as regards working procedures and any changes in work organization and the general operation of enterprises, which have important consequences for employees; it should also address the impact on employees and their representatives of measures being considered by management. The information and consultation should also be extended to cover areas which have a direct bearing on the rights of employees and their future, such as measures relating to equality of opportunity and health and safety at the workplace.

2.3. If information and consultation are to be effective, it is essential that employee representatives make known their views before final decisions are taken by management, thereby enabling these views to be taken into account when the desired course of action is being determined.

2.4. With a view to achieving an approach based on partnership and consent, the information to be provided must also cover the further development of the activities of enterprises and their economic and financial situations. Information on investment which is of fundamental importance to the future of enterprises and the future situation as regards employment should also be included.

2.5. Bearing in mind that information and consultation procedures should be a key tool for ensuring the effective organization of enterprises, it is essential that employees and their representatives have the opportunity to put forward proposals, particularly in matters relating to the safeguarding of jobs, the structure of employment and the expected trend in employment in enterprises. In these cases, too, efforts should be made to reach agreement before decisions are taken by enterprises.

2.6. An approach based on partnership is also a vital means of ensuring that decisions may be implemented with the minimum possible conflict. It is only by acting in this way and by securing the compliance of the workforce that appropriate priority can be given to the highly important field of vocational training.

2.7. The Committee points out that effective application of an information and consultation procedure is of critical importance to the implementation of change. This process is being applied to differing extents in the various EU Member States.

Brussels, 7 July 1999.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee


(1) See ESC opinion on basic Community social rights (OJ C 126, 23.5.1989, p. 4).

(2) Final report of the Expert Group on European Systems of Worker Involvement, p. 5 et seq.

(3) COM(97) 128 final, p. 3 et seq.

(4) Final report of the High Level Expert Group on the Economic and Social Impact of Industrial change, p. 9 et seq., page 23 et seq.