Unite holds a number of good Information & Consultation Agreements negotiated with a number of manufacturing companies. Many are in the print, paper and packaging sector. Recently Unite reached new I&C Agreements with other manufacturing companies and in engineering. In order to make sure our Reps understand their rights, Unite has been holding training courses for Reps on European Works Councils and on the ICE Regulations, demonstrating how the two are linked. The reaction we are getting from our Reps is extremely positive.

So why haven’t the ICE Regs taken off across UK industry?

Setting up an ICE structure within a company can be extremely onerous with workers having to establish a 10 per cent interest of the workforce by a petition and they almost certainly face a negative response from their employer. Our previous experience has been that employers sometimes find and dust off some form of ancient “Works Committee” structure set up many years ago or they work hard to undermine the request for ICE structures as they believe it would interfere with their “rights to manage”.

Equally, it is fair to say that Unions had also been lukewarm towards setting up ICE structures for a number of reasons, not least the fact that you need dedicated and expert support to go through the procedures and ensure they operate properly.

There is also a large amount of logistical work needed in organising a ballot to elect the negotiating committee and ICE committee and the fact that ICE covers all employees in an undertaking which means Unions sometimes have no influence over staff who are not our members.

I believe that this is one of the reasons why there needs to be a fundamental review of the ICE Regs if they are to be used in an effective manner.

The TUC’s recent report “Democracy in the Workplace” is based on a study of information and consultation in Germany, Sweden and France. The structures for setting up information and consultation bodies in these countries are much simpler and are better understood by Unions, workers and companies.

The UK regulations can only be activated once 10 per cent of the workforce have requested them in a ballot, and that is having had to find out where the workforce of any company is actually based!

In Germany, Sweden and France it is widely accepted that having a workers voice has significant benefits in promoting loyalty among the workforce and allowing management to understand the key concerns of workers and listening to their views on the company’s prospects. In France companies are legally required to establish ICE procedures. 

In Sweden and Germany they are legally required if one or five workers respectively request them. In its report, one Swedish Trade Unionist wondered; “why wouldn’t managers want to speak to their workforce?  For the workforce information and consultation can provide real protection”. He went on to say “it is surely no coincidence that a Swedish multinational has a much lower proportion of agency workers in the plant with strong information and consultation than in the plant that doesn’t.”


We know that in France employers cannot simply “hire and fire” in the way that they do in the UK and we also know that the cultures of Sweden, France and Germany support a better balance between the needs of the company and those of the workforce in Britain.

We believe first of all the 10 per cent trigger mechanism in the UK must be scrapped and workers desiring ICE structures should be allowed to automatically have them if a minimum of 5 employees request them irrespective of the size of the company.

Employers must be obliged to negotiate and agree ICE arrangements if requested to do so by a recognised Trade Union – and where agreement cannot be reached standard fall back provision should apply.

The TUC also has a view that it might also be appropriate for the UK to consider requiring all companies to establish ICE arrangements where a specified number of workers are employed by the company without a trigger mechanism.

UK ICE Regs need to have much tougher sanctions on companies who fail to comply with the legislation and that Tribunals should be able to order companies to set up structures or reverse decisions by companies until meaningful consultation with a view to reach an agreement has taken place with workers representatives.

We also need to do a number of other things.  ICE arrangements should no longer be based on “undertakings” but on establishments.  And all workers should be counted as individuals and not “half a person” in the case of part-time employees and that the government should provide widespread publicity on rights to set up ICE structures and there should also be a standard fall back provision should companies fail to comply.

However having studied structures in other European countries, there is no doubt that the UK lags behind and the failure to have proper structures does affect – in my opinion – how companies perform and their productivity.

The German economy did not collapse in the same way as the UK did in 2007/2008 because it has strong checks and balances and recognises the role that working people and Trade Unions have in ensuring that companies are successful and provide decent employment.

We need a new deal at work – stronger ICE Regulations would be part of an overall restructuring of basic employment rights that we also need.

Tony Burke is Assistant General Secretary of UNITE.    

The IPA are currently working on a project looking at the impact the ICE Regulations have had on the UK labour market since their inception 10 years ago, and how they could be used to strengthen employee voice. If you would like to get involved, please contact: [email protected]