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UK PM Theresa May softens stance on worker representation

UK Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to soften her stance on board worker representation within UK companies having previously suggested they should be represented alongside consumers. Speaking at the CBI annual conference this week she said that the government’s coming green paper on corporate governance would address executive pay, shareholder accountability and how “we can ensure the employee voice is heard in the boardroom.”

Addressing worker representation May said: “I can categorically tell you that this is not about mandating works councils, or the direct appointment of workers or trade union representatives on boards.

Some companies may find that these models work best for them – but there are other routes that use existing board structures, complemented or supplemented by advisory councils or panels, to ensure all those with a stake in the company are properly represented. It will be a question of finding the model that works.

Second, this is not about creating German-style binary boards which separate the running of the company from the inputs of shareholders, employees, customers or suppliers. Our unitary board system has served us well and will continue to do so.”

However she said it was about establishing the best corporate governance of any major economy, ensuring employees’ voices are properly represented in board deliberations, and that business has the trust of the public.

She said: “This will be a genuine consultation – we want to work with the grain of business and to draw from what works. But it will also be a consultation that will deliver results.

The TUC, which represents the UK’s trades union movement, called on May to fulfil her original pledge to have employees on company boards.  TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:“Theresa May made a clear promise to have workers represented on company boards. The proposals in her speech do not deliver on this.

“This is not the way to show that you want to govern for ordinary working people.”

Theresa May, the UK's new PM

UK PM Theresa May, is seeking corporate governance reform

Addressing the theme of corporate responsibility,  which she also raised at her recent Mansion House speech, May linked this to  the challenges posed to the UK by Brexit. While government would be doing its bit – with investment and a modern industrial strategy – to meet these challenges, business needed also to take action May suggested.

She said” The behaviour of a limited few has damaged the reputation of the many. And fair or not, it is clear that something has to change.

For when a small minority of businesses and business figures appear to game the system and work to a different set of rules, we have to recognise that the social contract between business and society fails – and the reputation of business as a whole is undermined.”

She reassured the CBI that she believed in capitalism and was pro-business  because it was, she believes, the best way to bring prosperity to this country but she said companies needed to do more to spread the benefits of prosperity around the country. This she indicated meant playing by the same rules as everyone else when it comes to tax and behaviour, and investing in Britain for the long-term.

“All things that I know the vast majority of businesses do already. Not just by creating jobs, by supporting smaller businesses, training and developing your people, but also by working to give something back to communities and supporting the next generation.

They are the means by which we spread opportunity and lift people out of poverty.”

What do you think?