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Workplace representation alive and kicking in Europe

Workplace representation of employees by unions and works councils is less widespread in the UK than in most other European countries, according to a report published yesterday by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. The UK ranks 21st out of 27 countries in the European Union in terms of the proportion of workplaces where employees have access to union or works council representation, raising questions about the ability of British workers to have a voice at the workplace.

The study, which is based on nationally representative data for countries across Europe, shows that workers in Denmark, Sweden and Finland are the most likely to have representatives at the workplace giving voice to their concerns. Greece and Portugal have the lowest levels of representation. The only other countries in the EU with lower levels of workplace representation than the UK are Lithuania, Austria, the Czech Republic and Malta.

The report points to various reasons why worker representation varies so much across Europe. It finds that worker representation is more common in countries where wage bargaining is carried out at a national or industry level, than it is in countries (such as the UK) where pay setting is decentralised at firm level. It is also more common in countries where trade unions or works council-type bodies have more extensive legislative support. The confirmation of the importance of the legislative framework is important in view of the EU’s efforts to promote minimum standards via mechanisms such as the Information and Consultation Regulations.

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