Under the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005, if you have 50 or more employees, your employees can request that you set up arrangements to inform and consult them. When a valid employee request is made, you are obliged to negotiate the details of an information and consultation (I&C) agreement with representatives of your employees, unless there is a valid pre-existing agreement in place and you have held a ballot for which employees have supported the pre-existing agreement.
For more information, see legal requirements for communicating with employees.
What is a valid employee request?
If 10 per cent of your employees request that you set up an I&C agreement, you are obliged to do so. That 10 per cent is subject to a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 2,500 employees.
To calculate the size of your workforce, you should calculate the average number of employees in your business over the past 12 months. You can count part-time employees working under a contract of 75 hours or less a month as half of one employee for this calculation.
For an employee request to be valid, it must:
- be in writing
- be dated
- state the names of the employees making the request
If your employees wish to remain anonymous, they may submit a request to the Industrial Court who will inform you that a valid request has been received.
It is possible for a valid request to be made up of a number of requests from different employees over a rolling six-month period - if this achieves the 10 per cent threshold.
Negotiating an I&C agreement
If you receive a valid employee request, you will need to make arrangements to begin negotiating an I&C agreement as soon as is reasonably practicable. You will need to arrange for your employees to elect or appoint a body of representatives to negotiate the agreement with you.
The names of the negotiating representatives must be set out in writing once this has been done.
You will have six months to negotiate the agreement, starting three months from the date that you received the employee request. If you and the employees' representatives agree, you can extend this period indefinitely.
A negotiated agreement must cover all of the employees in the undertaking, so it is advisable to word the agreement in such a way that new employees would be automatically covered. It is also advisable to include a provision stating how a restructuring will be dealt with, for example in terms of any changes to the number and identity of employee representatives.
If you fail to reach an agreement, or do not start negotiations, the fall-back provisions will apply. For more information, see ICE Regulations: pre-existing agreements and fall-back provisions.
You can decide, in agreement with your employees' representatives, the terms of a negotiated agreement. It should set out what you will discuss, when you will discuss it and how often the discussion will take place. The areas on which you inform and consult are for you and your employees' representatives to agree on.
You can also agree with your employees' representatives whether I&C will take place through employee representatives, directly with your workforce or with both. If you opt to use representatives, then you should make provision for your employees to elect or appoint them. They do not have to be the same representatives as those that negotiated the agreement. Whilst trade union representatives do not have any special rights to act as an I&C representative, your employees may decide to elect or appoint a trade union representative as an I&C representative.