The new Co-operation Act replaces the previous Act from 2007 from the beginning of 2022.The new Act has an equally broad scope of application as the previous one: it is applicable to every private-sector employer with at least 20 employees. The Act has been prepared in a tripartite working group, as is customary for employment legislation. The legislative reform was mainly urged by trade unions whose point of concern has for a long time been that the co-operation procedure is generally seen as synonymous with redundancies and lay-offs instead of allowing for a true dialogue between the employer and the employee. One of the goals of the new law is to give employees and their representatives a say in matters affecting the personnel on a continuous basis, rather than only when things look bad for the business and staff cuts are on the horizon.
In this article, we summarise some of the changes the new act brings about.
A new feature: Continuous dialogue between the employer and the personnel
A key novelty of the new Act is the employer’s obligation to conduct continuous dialogue with the personnel. Continuous dialogue is a procedure whereby the employer meets with its staff or representatives chosen by the staff to discuss matters that are subject to the dialogue. The idea is to increase the personnel’s insight into the operations of the employer and to give the personnel an opportunity to express their views on matters affecting them.
The Act lays down a general framework for the dialogue and stipulates the matters that must be addressed in it. That list of matters is quite extensive, including among others the foreseeable developments and the financial situation of the company, workplace policies and practices, use of fixed-term and part-time work and outsourcing of work, skills development and training as well as collecting of personal data. However, not every subject has to be discussed in every meeting.
The legislation gives ample leeway as to the practical ways of implementing the dialogue at the workplace. Unless otherwise agreed, a minimum requirement is that the meeting must be arranged at least once in a quarter year or, if the employer has less than 30 employees, twice a year.
Engaging in a meaningful dialogue as envisaged in the new law can present difficulties where the personnel or a personnel group has not chosen a representative. While the dialogue obligation does apply in these situations, the employer may carry out the dialogue by arranging a joint meeting once a year where unrepresented employees may attend and where the employer addresses the statutory matters.
Carrying out the dialogue is ultimately the employer’s duty but employee representatives may also make a request for dialogue on the statutory matters. Regardless of which party requests the dialogue, the employer must provide the employee representatives or employees with all necessary information which is reasonably providable and which the employer is not prevented from disclosing due to legal reasons.
As under the previous Act, the employer has the obligation to provide regularly certain information to the employee representatives on, for example, the financial situation of the company and the remuneration of the employees. Some of the obligations can be eliminated or modified by agreement.
Work community development plan
As part of the continuous dialogue, the employer must establish a work community development plan. The plan serves as a tool for improving and developing the personnel’s skills and wellbeing. The work community development plan must include a description of actions planned for that purpose as well as their schedule and follow-up measures. The work community development plan includes many similar items as the personnel and training plan under the previous law.