In 2002, the European authorities adopted Directive 2002/14 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community. According to the choice made by the Member States, such information and consultation procedure applies to undertakings employing at least 50 or at least 20 employees.
In several Member States, such as the Netherlands and Luxembourg, such information and consultation procedures were already in place, even in companies employing fewer than 20 employees. In Belgium, however, this Directive has only now been implemented by the Act of April 23, 2008, providing for compliance with an information and consultation procedure for companies employing between 50 and 100 employees. Furthermore, a national collective bargaining agreement was concluded on February 27, 2008, implementing the Directive in companies employing fewer than 50 workers and in which a trade union delegation has been established.
These developments do not affect companies employing more than 100 employees, to which existing regulations will continue to apply. In such a case, the works council must be informed and consulted prior to the taking of decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in the work organization or the contractual relations with employees, such as mergers or sales of assets. However, in companies employing between 50 and 100 employees, as in the past, no works council needs to be established, but the powers of the Committees for Prevention and Protection at Work (which, as in the past, must be established in companies employing at least 50 employees) will be extended so that they are given certain additional economic, social, and financial information by the employer. Moreover, the Committees must be informed of and consulted regarding possible restructuring decisions that may affect labor conditions and actual and future employment. If a trade union delegation exists along with the Committees for Prevention and Protection at Work, the union will deal with the social issues, whereas the Committees will receive the economic and financial information.
Finally, companies established in Belgium employing between 20 and 50 employees are not required to establish a works council or a Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work. However, a trade union delegation can exist if this is provided for by a collective bargaining agreement concluded at an industrywide level. If such trade union delegation exists, it will receive the information provided for in the European Directive, and it will be informed and consulted in case of important changes of structure envisaged by the company. In companies where no such trade delegation has been installed, the relevant joint committees may decide how the workers of such companies will be informed and consulted.
Companies having registered offices in Belgium will have to keep in mind these new rules with regard to the information and consultation of employees, especially if a modification of the structure of the company is envisaged, which could have an impact on the Belgian workforce.