Collective bargaining handling requires appropriate skills
Davies Ndumiso Sibanda, Labour Matters
COLLECTIVE bargaining has presented problems for many organisations with workers rejecting offered wages and in worse cases resulting in disruption of work because those charged with handling collective bargaining are not skilled or trained in collective bargaining.
Labour negotiations or what we loosely call collective bargaining is a specialised area of negotiation that cannot be handled by anyone trained in negotiation skills. It is a no-go area for those who are not trained if stable labour relations is the desirable solution. Wage negotiations are even more difficult and complex because emotions can easily run high over self-interest issues and other hidden objectives.
Last week I met two heads of departments who were urging the non-managerial workers union to push for urgent wage negotiations as their salaries had been eroded and could only be increased after the NEC wage negotiations have been concluded. This is a clear case of desperate managers who have self-interest as they negotiate on behalf of employers.
I have chaired wage negotiations and overheard union representatives rejecting employers offers of wage adjustments on the basis of what they are likely to get as individuals. I have also heard employers arguing amongst themselves over what they should offer workers as a means of retaining skills with others arguing they cannot afford the proposed increases. In worse cases, some human resources managers have claimed they would be dismissed if employers at NEC accepted certain figures. The same argument has been raised by unions who want to agree on wage adjustments that will make them look good before members and prospective members.
There are other important reasonable factors that come to play such as organisations’ ability to pay, inflation and others. At times labour politics comes to play as things like pending union congress and internal power struggles amongst union members can have an effect. I have also seen conflict amongst employers’ association members also having an influence. The list of factors affecting wage negotiations is long, but the most important things are the skills of negotiators and the aptitude of the chairperson.
The quality of the chairperson and the support he gets from the parties in most cases is a decisive factor in negotiations. The ability of the chairperson to progress negotiations and handle side meetings effectiveness is important. In most wage negotiations success depends on the quality of ground rules set before the negotiations start and how the chairperson steers negotiations as guided by ground rules.
Even with solid ground rules, collective bargaining can be problematic when one party walks out of negotiations and in worse cases, they are the “big brother” making it impossible to proceed with negotiations without them. At times, one party uses reckless, insulting language causing one of the parties to walk out. At times one of the parties negotiates on the strength of the weakest member. At times parties come without adequate mandate, at times the economic environment gets a major shift when negotiations are almost complete, thus, complicating things and many others.
All the complexities given cannot be handled by unskilled negotiators and unskilled chairperson given that collective bargaining agreements must be tools to help stabilise labour relations and allow workers to take home a living wage and the business of the employer to function smoothly with productivity improvement.
Lastly, collective bargaining as a specialised form of negotiation requires appropriate training not only in labour laws but also the purpose and conduct of collective bargaining at industry and workplace level.
λ Davies Ndumiso Sibanda can be contacted on: email: [email protected]