Collective Bargaining

By Adam Turner
23 Dec 2021
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How could collective bargaining impact your business? Which workers’ unions should you recognise, and how should you work with such organisations? In this article, we will look at how reaching a collective bargaining agreement can benefit both your company and its employees.

Data shows that trade union membership in the UK dropped by almost 10% since 1995. However, we shouldn’t read into this that unions lost relevance. On the contrary, real-world examples highlight the importance of recognising and negotiating directly with them.

A 2021 protest gathered global support from nearly 50 organisations and unions under the “Make Amazon Pay” slogan. In the UK, workers of the online retailer cannot strike as they lack unionisation. Instead, campaign groups staged protests at Amazon buildings across the country.

Prior to the 2021 protests, UK and US based unions accused the company of supressing workers right to freedom of association. So, they had time to act on the issues before they escalated.

Don’t get caught in similar controversy as Amazon did.

Instead, use collective bargaining to support a culture of open communication and trust within your company.

Call us today to discuss how to apply the collective bargaining process correctly and avoid tribunal claims, on 01455 858 132.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the process by which workers’ representatives negotiate with the employer. Such negotiations involve wages, benefits and other aspects which we will detail further below in this article.

The law protects people’s right to freedom of association. Which trade union, if any, you decide to recognise is entirely up to you. Of course, it makes no sense to recognise a union that only represents workers in a different industry than the one you operate within.

What Is Collective Bargaining Used For

Even if you don’t validate an industry related union, a worker can become a member and ask for advice. This means you risk getting stuck in a time-consuming situation of resolving workplace conflict with each employee individually.

No preventative measure will totally eliminate the occurrence of such conflicts. Our professional mediators will help you deal with any difficulties you might face, as they arise. You can however eliminate avoidable conflict by reaching an agreement through collective bargaining negotiations.

If you decide not to recognise any union, your employees can still join one. When supported by the majority of your workers, the organisation can apply for statutory recognition through the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC).

While there isn’t a UK collective bargaining law, the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 covers workers right to associate and negotiate collectively.

We have seen business leaders ask about the difference between collective bargaining and collective agreement. Simply, the first term identifies the process, while the later identifies the desired outcome. Without reaching a final agreement, the whole negotiation has failed.

What is decentralised collective bargaining?

Let’s say your employees decide to initiate collective wage bargaining. Your business runs operations in a mix of partly overlapping industries. Instead of choosing one union that wouldn’t necessarily represent all of them, your staff decide to start their own.

This is one example of decentralised collective bargaining.

Basically, a decentralised model delegates union competencies to the workers’ representatives themselves. In other words, reps take more responsibility in how they negotiate and deciding on the desired outcome, rather than waiting for guidance from the organisation.

The main advantage of such a model is that reps know the business from within. So, they can focus on matters in the context specific to your company, rather than in a “one size fits all” approach.

What is collective bargaining used for?

Generally, trade unions negotiate employees’ pay and working conditions with their employer.

They can negotiate aspects such as:

  • Wages and salaries
  • Hours of work (variable shift patterns, fixed hours)
  • Annual and sick leave
  • Health and safety policies
  • Benefits such as pension and sick pay (over statutory rights)
  • Balancing work and family life
  • Planned redundancy

Such negotiations at a collective level can spare employers further aggravation through strikes, walk outs and mass resignations. By reaching a collective bargaining agreement and including the terms in your employment contracts, policies and terms, you avoid unnecessary complications. Each union member needs to follow and abide by the terms of the agreement, regardless of personal opinion.

What about employer’s breach of collective bargaining agreement?

These agreements are, generally speaking, not enforceable by law. This is because they are voluntary.
However, there is little point in reaching an understanding if one of the parts breaks it immediately. They will end up at square one.

Employer Breach Of Collective Bargaining Agreement

When an employer overlooks what they agreed with workers’ reps, they risk provoking collective action as highlighted above.

However, if you break the terms agreed upon, once you have included them in your contracts and documentation, you risk tribunal claims. In a 2021 case, the employer was found to be in breach of collective bargaining agreement under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992. They made direct offers to employees to change their terms of employment, bypassing the collective bargaining agreed with Unite.

How does collective bargaining work?

Firstly, either the employees, or the union identify aspects they want to negotiate.  

How quickly the rest of the process moves depends on the gravity of these matters. In cases of immediate risk to the workers’ health and safety, there might be a need to reach an agreement fast. On the other hand, a case of negotiating improved pension payments could proceed slower.  

When you discuss with union reps, follow the collective bargaining agreement process as highlighted below:

  • Both sides prepare for negotiation, by reviewing contracts and documentation.
  • They agree on when, where and how the negotiations will take place and set these out into rules.
  • They discuss the issues and negotiate on the best way going forward.
  • They reach a negotiation agreement, which they present for employees represented by the union to vote.
  • Both sides implement the agreement.

Ensure you thoroughly prepare for the negotiation process in collective bargaining. The way you manage this essential stage will not only dictate the outcome but will lay the foundation for future discussions. Identify at the first stage who will negotiate for the company. This person will preside over the process, present the matters, and invite both sides to present their case.

Our experienced impartial mediators can help you at this stage. Call us today to get free advice, on 01455 858 132.

Conditions necessary for collective bargaining

What does it take to successfully run the above collective bargaining process?

Collective Bargaining Agreement

A problem-solving attitude and openness to dialogue always help, and you need to demonstrate them genuinely and actively. Maybe not the first thing to come to mind, but make sure nobody interferes with the employees right to freedom of association. You might be taking all the necessary steps yourself and then discover that one of your managers was trying to persuade staff to drop their requests, or even intimidate them.

This is where your chief negotiator can make a real difference by overseeing the whole process. They can even bring such concerns to you. Even if somebody in your management has been tampering with the process, you will likely gain your staff’s appreciation by handling such a situation appropriately.

Different types of collective bargaining

Depending on how one or both sides approach the whole process, we see four main types of collective bargaining. Knowing which is which can help you better prepare for negotiations and desired/likely outcomes.

You will see one of these types occurring more often than others:

  • Conjunctive – where both parties try to gain from the other’s loss, usually involving wages, bonuses, and other employee benefits.
  • Co-operative – where both parties try to resolve a problem of their common interest, usually involving work terms and technology solutions.
  • Productivity related – where the employer is looking to increase productivity through incentives of bonuses, with a view to increase the company’s success.
  • Composite – where the employees express concerns regarding working conditions, policies or recruitment matters, with a view to safeguard workers.

Main HR lessons to take from negotiating with unions

Would it come as a surprise that the concept of collective bargaining was coined by Beatrice Webb in 1891?

More than a century later, it can benefit any business to consider the importance of collective bargaining. By negotiating with workers reps, you encourage them to bring concerns forward and address them to improve both productivity and workers wellbeing. Who can better tell you what they need to boost the results of their work than the employees themselves?

At the same time, working with trade unions can spare you having to face very difficult situations. It can improve staff retention, their trust in you as an employer, and support steady, reliable business growth.

Work with our experienced workplace mediators

Regardless of whether your employees unionise or not, workplace conflicts do happen. You want to be prepared to effectively manage them when they do. Don’t get caught in a loop of failed negotiations and unaddressed concerns that could result in tribunal claims.

We will support you from the very early stages of collective bargaining to implementing the agreements. Call us today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Adam has been with Croner Reward for 3 years. He has over 15 years’ experience working with various organisations and sectors. He has a strong passion, breadth and depth for job evaluation and salary benchmarking. He has a strong customer focused work ethic, ensuring clients always get the best possible outcome for their organisations from their Reward Projects.

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