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Employee communications and consultation are the lifeblood of any business. Whatever the size, or type, of organisation people need to talk to each other; they need to exchange views and ideas, issue and receive instructions, discuss problems and consider developments. This booklet aims to assist employers, employees and their representatives develop effective arrangements for communications and consultation. It describes:

  • why communications and consultation are important
  • who should take responsibility for communicating and consulting
  • what kinds of information are required and when consultation should take place
  • the main methods of employee communications and consultation
  • the need for regular review of procedures and adequate training.

However, it is first important to define exactly what is meant by the terms communications and consultation.

What is meant by employee communications and consultation?

Employee communications means the provision and exchange of information and instructions which enable an organisation to function efficiently and employees to be properly informed about developments. It covers:

  • the information to be provided
  • the channels along which it passes
  • the way it is communicated.

Consultation is the process by which management and employees or their representatives jointly examine and discuss issues of mutual concern. It involves seeking acceptable solutions to problems through a genuine exchange of views and information. Consultation does not remove the right of managers to manage - they must still make the final decision - but it does impose an obligation that the views of employees will be sought and considered before decisions are taken. Indeed, in certain circumstances consultation with independent recognised trade unions is a legal requirement.

The dividing line between consultation and communications is not clear cut and the terms are often used interchangeably. However, there is a fundamental difference. Communications is concerned with the interchange of information and ideas within an organisation. Consultation goes beyond this and involves managers actively seeking and then taking account of the views of employees before making a decision.

It is not only the relationship between communication and consultation that causes confusion; the link between consultation and collective bargaining is also frequently misunderstood and must be clarified.

Collective bargaining is the process by which employers and recognised trade unions seek to reach agreement through negotiation on issues such as pay and terms and conditions of employment. It is quite different from consultation where the responsibility for decision making remains with management. With collective bargaining both employer and trade union take responsibility for fulfilling the bargain.

Given this scope for confusion it is particularly important that organisations which recognise trade unions ensure that any consultation or communications procedures they introduce are compatible with, and complementary to, existing collective bargaining processes.

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