The Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005 give rights to employees and workforce representatives in larger organisations.
But since April 2008 these regulations have also applied to organisations with more than 50 employees.
The regulations cover the right of workers to request that their employer negotiates with them to reach an agreement setting out a procedure for informing and consulting workforce representatives on a regular basis about a variety of business issues.
However, the regulations do not give employees an automatic right to be informed and consulted about business matters.
Employees must either make a formal request to negotiate an information and consultation agreement, or the employer must start the process. If neither of these happens, an employer need not set up information and consultation arrangements.
To be valid, the request must come from at least 10% of the workforce, subject to a minimum of 15 employees and a maximum of 2,500.
The request can be sent either direct to the employer or to the industrial court which can handle the request on behalf of the employees if they wish to remain anonymous.
An employer may already have in place arrangements for informing and consulting employees on business matters, for example, a collective agreement with a recognised trade union.
Although any such agreement will not have been set up under the regulations, it may still constitute a valid information and consultation agreement.
Any such pre-existing agreement must meet certain criteria to be valid, for example, it must cover all employees and must have been approved by them.
If there is no valid pre-existing agreement, or if sufficient employees have requested or voted for the negotiation of a new agreement a request from the workforce will mean that the employer must begin negotiations with employee representatives to establish an information and consultation agreement.
These negotiations must begin within three months of the request.
Even without a request from the workforce, an employer may choose to initiate negotiations at any time.
Within three months of a valid request from the workforce to start negotiations, the employer must make arrangements for the workforce to appoint or elect negotiating representatives.
There are no rules about how these representatives should be chosen but all employees should have an opportunity to take part in the selection process.
Once negotiating representatives have been selected, the employer must invite them to negotiate to reach an information and consultation agreement.
Negotiations may last for up to six months but this period may be extended by agreement between the employer and the representatives.
The regulations do not specify exactly what a negotiated agreement should contain but, in order to be valid, an agreement must be in writing, set out when the employer will inform and consult employees, provide for the appointment or election of information and consultation representatives or for direct information and consultation with employees, cover all employees and be approved by the employees, for example, by being signed by the negotiating representatives.
The method, subject matter, frequency and timing of information and consultation arrangements are for the parties themselves to agree.
If an employer and the negotiating representatives fail to reach an information and consultation agreement, or an employer fails to initiate negotiations following a valid request from the employees, standard information and consultation procedures apply by default.
Further assistance on information and consultation with employees is available from your local CAB or from the Department for Employment and Learning who have produced guidance on this subject available from www.delni.gov.uk.
Siobhan Harding is an Information & Policy Officer with Citizens Advice