J Sainsbury and Eurotunnel support them but many managers oppose national work councils. 'There is an image of trade unions, beer and skittles, and wage negotiations,' says Jeff Bakes, global human resources consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Richard Wilson, business policy executive for the Institute of Directors (IoD), is dismissive. 'Although it is useful to communicate within a company, works councils are against the IoD's principles,' he states. 'We do not support industrial democracy.'
Opponents might not have the choice much longer. Currently, the UK and Ireland are the only EU states without legal requirements to establish national works councils, but for how long? The Department of Trade and Industry is going into consultation about them this autumn - prompted by the UK's need to comply with a European directive by the end of next year. According to a survey released this summer by The Industrial Society, the majority of UK employers favour the introduction of statutory consultative works councils for employees.
Sainsbury has had a works council in place since November 1996 and sees the introduction as a positive move. 'We realised that there was a communication gap as far as colleagues were concerned. We were looking for a mechanism to fill that,' says Carolyn Gray, senior manager for HR policy. Initially the company was cautious.