How to plan for EBA negotiation success – Part 2

Last week’s article outlined an estimated negotiation schedule (8– 10 meetings from ‘cradle to grave’, one week to 10 days between meetings, a 2-3 month process) and tips on how to plan for success. The next articles will provide some guidelines and advice concerning documenting progress throughout the bargaining process, drafting your proposed agreement and navigating through the Commission’s sometimes fraught approval processes to get your agreement rubber stamped.

This article, however, will outline how you can ‘set the table’ at the initial meeting and control the bargaining process, right from the first moment. In my experience, EBA negotiations can be concluded relatively quickly or only after a long and drawn-out process, depending on the positions, relationship and compromising nature of the parties. Please be aware, however, it is not uncommon for such a process to take significantly longer than the 2-3 months estimated above.

Once you have implanted your three necessary planning steps you are ready for the ‘Initial Meeting’. The initial bargaining meeting is usually held to meet with the trade union acting as the employee bargaining agent – and any employee bargaining representatives (“EBRs”) you have been able to assist employees appoint – to discuss the framework of the proposed EBA. The three tips for the important initial meeting are:

  • Tip 1 – Step out your organisational objectives;
  • Tip 2 – Lay out ‘rules of engagement’ for expectations from the union during process;
  • Tip 3 – Use ‘backpay’ as an important bargaining chip.

Tip 1 – Step out your organisational objectives

This introductory meeting is a perfect opportunity to step out your organisational objectives right at this early stage, to ‘set the tone’ and ensure the trade union (and EBRs) are cognisant of your focus and key items for the upcoming negotiation. For example, you might ‘kick off’ with something like:

“Management has indicated that as we will be going through significant change in the next 2 years we will continue to provide excellent pay rates to employees, but I must stress we require the employees to be responsive, flexible and adaptive to change. We’re going to seek clauses in the agreement that provide this.”

Tip 2 – Lay out ‘rules of engagement’

Further, the initial meeting is also a good point to lay out ‘rules of engagement’ and what you expect from the union. It is said employers get the union relationship they deserve. I have seen some disgraceful conduct from union organisers on site in Australian businesses (such as trespassing, being in ‘safety sensitive’ areas unannounced, swearing, threatening and belittling others etc.), and I suspect much of this is attributable in some ways to the company concerned allowing inappropriate conduct to escalate unchecked. Thus, the ‘rules of engagement’ discussion is crucial in setting out clear, documented, unambiguous employer expectations concerning important negotiation features such as expectations around union right of entry (how it will be conducted and whether entry notices are required), union feedback meetings and union delegates attending negotiations, whether such meetings will be on paid or unpaid time, work and deadline expectations for employees negotiating the agreement, union membership clothing and paraphernalia distribution etc..

Tip 3 – Use ‘backpay’ as an important bargaining chip

Part of the important ‘setting the table’ or voicing your expectations and desires for the upcoming process will be making crystal clear, right from the outset, the company’s expectations around efficient meetings, and a snappy process. One good tip here is to reiterate to the union official concerned you want to finalise the proposed EBA negotiation as quickly and effortlessly as possible, and that if the agreement is concluded by a set date, you are willing to backdate the employees’ average annual wage increases from this date (i.e. the start of negotiations). You would also convey, however, that if the agreement negotiation process stretches out and becomes labour-intensive, that if it isn’t concluded by a set date or if meetings (or even union organisers in some occasions) are needlessly swapped around, you would be withdrawing this offer of retrospectivity and the longer the process is delayed and drawn out, the longer the employees have to wait for a wage increase. You should never, ever, make any commitments at this point that “of course backpay will be paid” as you create an atmosphere whereby there is no incentive for anyone to try and negotiate efficiently and sensibly.

End the meeting on a ‘high’ by thanking the participants for their attendance, exchanging and confirming contact details (and primary points of contact) and seeking to ‘lock in’ agreed meeting times for the next few meetings. Next week, we’ll go through how to swap logs of claims and negotiating out ‘ambit’.

Workplace Wizards partners with employers throughout EBA negotiations to provide you the required documents, strategy and tips, bargain ‘in the room’ with you (if needed) and ensure you are meeting the requisite procedural deadlines. Email me at mark@workplacewizards.com.au for the previous article in this series or to find out more.

Mark Ritchie

Mark Ritchie

Mark is passionate about helping Australian businesses efficiently resolve their industrial relations issues. Mark has demonstrated proficiency advising managers, executives and boards of small to medium-sized enterprises, as well as some of Australia’s best-known companies, on both litigious and non-litigious matters.

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