High stakes collective bargaining

by External23 Nov 2011

5. Operations

The business still has to run. Product needs to get to customers. Suppliers need to meet their commitments. Unions are usually close enough to the business to understand the key pressure points here. Customers and suppliers represent the key part of any stakeholder strategy.

In addition, when a negotiation which becomes difficult and leads to protected industrial action, valuable company resources are soaked up. It can place serious pressure on the business. Again, the capacity to overcome that pressure becomes a key ingredient in any employer’s arsenal of success.

6. Leadership

In my view, this is the key ingredient for success. The negotiator cannot put a position unless he or she knows that it will be backed by the organisation – particularly when the union campaign begins to bite. Similarly, the manager who has to deal with issues related to customers cannot do so with confidence unless he or she knows that the position is similarly supported.

This reminds me of a story that comes from the mining industry during the 1980s. The particular employer was facing a period of intense industrial action. Once again, the usual pressure point arrived and this time it was the spectre of ships coming into port waiting to load valuable minerals set for export to overseas customers.

When the CEO was appraised of this development and was asked, ‘What shall we do?’, he replied, with great clarity, ‘Tell the customers they can wait’. Of course, many a business would not be able to adopt such a position. But such a powerful message from the head of a business sends an unambiguous message both internally and externally. Ultimately this profoundly impacts all aspects of the negotiation process.

About the author

Chris Gardner is a partner at Freehills specialising in workplace relations strategy and collective bargaining. He featured in Best Lawyers Australia and Chambers Global leading Australian lawyers

*See also Gorton M, ‘Union calls to Arms’, The Saturday Age, 4 June 2011.

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