Bargaining at work
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Collective Bargaining at Work
Bargaining is a commonplace term in human resource management, so, as a worker, you are expected to have a clear picture of how the bargaining process works (Doellgast & Benassi, 2020). This article intends to offer a descriptive discussion of the collective bargaining process, particularly, when unions are utilized to enhance the voice of workers.
What is Collective Bargaining?
Conventional knowledge holds that collective bargaining is a negotiation process which involves employers and employees with the goal of enhancing outcome for both stakeholders with respect to their existing relationship. Typically, these negotiations revolve around various aspects of employment, including salaries, benefits, working conditions, worker rights, and compensation. Burns and Harvey (2018) assert that there are two types of collective bargaining, including traditional and interest based approaches. Employers and workers should understand both frameworks in order to understand which one suits their needs.
- Traditional Collective Bargaining
Traditionally, bargaining for work was seen as a voluntary process in which the employers and employees discussed the terms of employment. Employees often assigned the negotiator role to an eloquent member who would represent them at the table. For this reason, the process was always perceived as a win-lose affair, in which each side had competing demands regarding the employment conditions.
Johnston and Land-Kazlauskas (2018) argue that the term ‘distributive’ is highly appropriate when describing the nature of traditional collective bargaining processes since it involved splitting the pie on matters pertaining to responsibilities and compensations. Considering the competitive nature of traditional collective bargaining processes, arbitrators were often needed to not only facilitate the process, but also offer rational solutions. The government or independent tribunals usually played the ‘arbitrator’ role during such negotiations.
When unionization was introduced to enhance the voice of workers, it also transformed the nature of collective bargaining into a different form, commonly termed as ‘interest-based negotiations’.
- Interest-Based Collective Bargaining
As the name suggests, this form of bargaining moves away from the traditional model, in the sense that it focuses on stakeholder interests rather than adversarial demands and compromises. It is fair to highlight that this form of collective bargaining is more common than the traditional style since it yields better results.
By approaching collective bargaining as a cooperative process, the negotiators are in a position to emerge with win-win scenarios. According to Burns and Harvey (2018), interest-based collective bargaining involves joint sharing of progressive ideas and options that can be pursued to enhance an organization’s stakeholder value.
While governments still play a major role in facilitating such negotiations, they do not arbitrate since solutions are jointly developed by both parties. It is also fair to note that inasmuch as employees are represented by unions, the negotiator is in no way, a beneficiary of the bargaining terms and outcomes.
The Principle of Good Faith
Collective bargaining in Australia is governed by the Fair Work Act (2009), which holds the belief that all negotiations involving employers and employees should be implemented voluntarily, and in good faith. The ‘Good Faith’ principle is available in Section 228 of the Fair Work Act, and it argues that all procedures in the negotiation process should be done in good faith (FWC, n.d). Since interest-based collective bargain is grounded on meeting stakeholder interests, each party should work towards facilitating win-win solutions that will benefit them without compromise. The Fair Work Act (2009) promotes such a beneficial relationship by listing a set of requirements that must be met by the negotiating parties to demonstrate good faith.
- First, the negotiating parties must attend, and participate in meetings reasonably. This requirement necessitates adherence to agreed instructions pertaining to the time and location of meeting.
- Second, any relevant information should be disclosed in a timely manner, unless it is categorized as ‘commercially sensitive’ or ‘confidential’. This implies that the employer should share any information that the union representatives might utilize to improve outcomes of the process: the same is expected of the union.
- Third, each party should respond to the requests made by other bargaining members in a timely manner. Failure to respond is a clear indication of dis-acknowledgment of the process, and it is bound to jeopardize the outcomes.
- Fourth, any response to the proposals made by other bargaining representatives should demonstrate genuine consideration. In this case, the representatives should give reasons for their responses to the proposals made by their counterparts.
- Fifth, all negotiators must refrain from capricious conduct. Any action that appears to undermine the collective bargaining process, or, the freedom of association are considered unfair, and thus, not in accordance with the good faith clause.
- Lastly, all bargaining representatives should recognize each other, and operate with the goal of reaching a beneficial agreement for both.
Application of the ‘Good Faith’ Clause in the Assigned Case Study (AussieTel)
As evidenced in the case of AussieTel, the organization needs to reconsider its policies, with respect to gender pay imbalance, ethnic diversity, and the representation of young employees in roles that involve decision-making. The Telecommunication Union of Australia (TCUA) already clarified that it will initiate a strike if there is reason to believe that AussieTel is not operating in good faith. In the wake of such a realization, below are some recommendations:
- AussieTel should initiate a gender pay gap analysis to clarify the gender pay imbalance issue. Any information generated from this process should be shared to the representatives of TCUA, so that both parties can brainstorm solutions for the same.
- AussieTel should clarify the number of ethnic minorities that it wishes to add to its workforce to promote ethnic diversity. Note that the TCUA representatives should be willing to loosen their conditions on this matter considering the fact that few aboriginals in Australia (Moodie, Maxwell, & Rudolph, 2019) have the academic qualifications required for some posts.
- Both parties should make recommendations on how young employees can partake in decision-making roles given the highly discrete nature of their jobs. The fact that modern workers, mainly millennials, operate remotely via digital technology poses a challenge to most HR managers (Burns & Harvey, 2018).
Clearly, collective bargaining is a unique framework for employees to have their voices heard by the management with respect to improving their relationships. Unlike traditional bargaining, the interest-based approach is quite effective in promoting the implementation of solutions that serve both employers and employees. Australia’s Fair Work Act (2009) requires negotiating parties to operate in good faith to safeguard their relationship. For this reason, AussieTel and TCUA should take the bargaining process seriously, and focus on promoting the outcomes.
Burns, R., & Harvey, K. (2018). Collective Bargaining: Delivering for the Public Interest? Australian Institute of Employment Rights.
Doellgast, V., & Benassi, C. (2020). Collective bargaining. In Handbook of research on employee voice. Edward Elgar Publishing.
Fair Work Commission (FWC) (n.d). Good Faith Bargaining. Fair Work Commission.
Johnston, H., & Land-Kazlauskas, C. (2018). Organizing on-demand: Representation, voice, and collective bargaining in the gig economy. Conditions of work and employment series, 94.
Moodie, N., Maxwell, J., & Rudolph, S. (2019). The impact of racism on the schooling experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: A systematic review. The Australian Educational Researcher, 46(2), 273-295.