Collective Bargaining

From Wikipedia: Collective bargaining is a process of negotiations between employers and the representatives of a unit of employees aimed at reaching agreements which regulate working conditions. Collective agreements usually set out wage scales, working hours, training, health and safety, overtime, grievance mechanisms and rights to participate in workplace or company affairs.[1]

The union may negotiate with a single employer (who is typically representing a company’s shareholders) or may negotiate with a group of businesses, depending on the country, to reach an industry wide agreement. A collective agreement functions as a labor contract between an employer and one or more unions. Collective bargaining consists of the process of negotiation between representatives of a union and employers (generally represented by management, in some countries[which?] by an employers’ organization) in respect of the terms and conditions of employment of employees, such as wages, hours of work, working conditions and grievance-procedures, and about the rights and responsibilities of trade unions. The parties often refer to the result of the negotiation as a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or as a collective employment agreement (CEA).

The nature of the problem influences the whole process. Whether the problem is very important and needs to be discussed immediately or it can be postponed for some other convenient time, whether the problem is a minor one so that it can be solved with the other party’s acceptance on its presentation and does not involve a long process of collective bargaining etc. It also influences a selection of representatives their size, period of negotiations and period of agreement that is reached ultimately. As such it is important for both the parties to be clear about the problem before entering into the negotiation.

Both labour and management initially spend considerable time collecting relevant data relating to grievances, disciplinary actions, transfers and promotions , lay-offs , overtime, former agreements covering wages, benefits, working conditions (internal  sources) and current  economic forecasts, cost of living trends, wage rates in a region across various occupations, competitive terms offered by rivals in the field  etc.

The success of collective bargaining depends on the skills and knowledge of the negotiators. Considerable time should, therefore be devoted to the selection of negotiators with requisite qualifications. Generally, speaking, effective negotiators should have a working knowledge of trade unions principles, operations, economies, psychology, and labour laws. They should be good judge of human nature and be able to get along with people easily. They must know when to listen, when to speak, when to stand their ground, when to concede when to horse trade, and when to make counter proposals. Timing is important. Effective speaking and debating skills are essential.

The strategy is the plan and the policies that will be pursued at the bargaining table. Tactics are the specific action plans taken in the bargaining sessions. It is important to spell out the strategy and tactics in black and white broadly covering the following aspects:

  • Likely union proposals and management responses to them.
  • A listing of management demands, limits of concessions and anticipated union responses.
  • Development of a database to support proposals advanced by management and to counteract.
  • A contingency operating plan if things do not move on track.
  • Conflict based: Each party uncompromisingly takes a hard line and resists any overtures for compromise or agreement. Typically what happens is that one party mirrors the other party’s actions.
  • Each party views the other as an adversary. Although they are adversaries, it is recognized that an agreement must be worked out under the guidelines specified by the law. In fact, the law is followed to the letter to reach an agreement.
  • Each party accepts the other party with the knowledge that a balance of power exists. It would be non-productive to pursue a strategy of trying to eliminate the other party in the relationship.
  • Both parties adjust to each other. Positive compromises, flexibility, and tolerance are used.
  • Each side accepts the other as a full partner. This means that management and the union work together not only on everyday matters but in such difficult areas as technological change, improvements in quality of work life, and business decision making.
  • Generally each side tries to find out how far the other side is willing to go in terms of concessions and the minimum levels each one is willing  to accept.

    Successful negotiations, after all, are contingent upon each side remaining flexible. Each party should be willing to conceded up to a certain extent depending on one’s own compulsions and pressures, with  a view to win over the other party. If neither  party is willing to concede a little bit, negotiations reach a deadlock, which can eventually result in a strike on the part of  the union or a lockout  on the part of the management.

  • Be sure  to set clear objectives for every bargaining  item, and be sure you understand the reason for each.
  • Do not hurry.
  • Be well prepared with firm data supporting your position.
  • Always strive to keep some flexibility in your position.
  • Respect the importance of face saving for the other party.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Build a reputation for being fair but firm.
  • Measure each move against your objectives.
  • Pay close attention to the wording of every clause  negotiated; they  are often a source of grievances.
  • Remember that collective bargaining is a compromise process. There is no such thing as having all the pie.
  • Try to understand people and their personalities.
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