Bargaining: Underestimate unions and neglect planning at your peril
Employers that underestimate the proficiency of trade unions and neglect to do their homework in the lead up to enterprise-agreement negotiations are unlikely to "exert control" at the bargaining table, says Deacons partner Martin Osborne.
Examining previous agreementsOsborne says that employers should start by examining the process and results of previous negotiations.
Bargaining is a bit like "groundhog day", he says. The majority of issues are the same every time.
Employers must determine what worked - and what didn't - in the previous agreement, and cost alternative scenarios. They should establish a set of goals and ensure that their bargaining objectives can enable improvements in business outcomes.
"Employers don't want cost-neutral developments," he says. "They don't want to go backwards from the last deal."
Employers should also review "met commitments", Osborne says. "Sticking points" in the bargaining process often go unresolved, he says, and stakeholders can end up making commitments they can't live up to.
A failure to meet a commitment from the previous agreement might need to be explained and defended, he says. If the failure is on the part of another stakeholder, it can be used as a bargaining chip.
Research keyAccording to Osborne, employers must also prepare for the bargaining process by researching:
"Different unions have different drivers and approaches to enterprise bargaining," he says.
Unions are "not always driving worker imperatives", he says, and have different "commercial drivers" to business.
"Bargaining can be difficult if you don't know where [unions are] coming from."
Industrial-action contingency planAn industrial-action contingency plan can help "keep the wheels turning" should negotiations stall, Osborne says.
In the months leading up to a new bargaining round employers could consider increasing production - where possible - or explore alternative labour options to prepare for a possible strike.
They should seek advice to determine their legal options - such as the right to seek orders to halt industrial action - and use surveillance to document illegal activity should things get out of control.
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