Negotiating and bargaining

Negotiation and bargaining is the process of talking to employers and making agreements with employers when workers are unhappy with pay or working conditions.

Negotiation and bargaining happens between members, UNISON representatives and employers to help create fairness and equality at work.

The aim of negotiation is to reach an agreement. Negotiation should not be confused with ‘consultation’ – which is simply an exchange of opinions between workers and their employer. However, skilful negotiators can turn consultation into negotiation.

What does UNISON bargain about?

A group of UNISON reps may form a collective bargaining group to reach an agreement for better pay or over planned redundancies or changes to pensions. This may happen at either a local or national level.

They may also negotiate over non pay-related issues, such as working hours or the right to flexible working for carers and parents, for example. At the moment, there is no legal requirement for employers to accept requests for flexible working, so bargaining may be a useful way to encourage an employer to offer flexible working arrangements.

The process

Most UNISON reps will have to negotiate with management at some time.

To start the negotiation process, a UNISON rep or official may write to the employer to raise a claim. They then meet management to present the case.

Stewards do not normally negotiate alone. Instead, a team that reflects a wide range of UNISON membership, including individuals with complementary skills, is put together.

A series of meetings may follow to discuss the issue in depth. If you attend one of these meetings, it is as important to listen carefully and ask questions as it is to present your case well. Clear, effective communication during negotiation is important as it can help others to understand your point of view.

The stages of negotiation

The negotiation process often has four key stages.

  • Preparation – preparation and research of the case.
  • The opening – one side tables a proposal and the other side responds.
  • Trading – for example, “we’ll offer x if you agree to y”.
  • Agreement – sets out clear expectations for both sides.

To reach an agreement, both sides must be open to new ideas and willing to accept changes.

If no agreement is made, negotiations can break down and unions may resort to industrial action. If industrial action is required, UNISON regional offices get involved and provide advice on the correct procedures to follow.

Once workers and employers have reached an agreement, it is signed and kept in place either for a set time or until replaced.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation during meetings between reps and their employer, often to improve pay and conditions. The collective bargaining process allows workers to approach employers as a unified group.

The aim of collective bargaining is to reach an agreement that meets the needs of employees and workers. Members can contribute to discussions and their outcomes by talking to their reps while negotiations take place.

How UNISON helps

Reps, including stewards, organising staff and branch officers, have a vital role to play in improving working conditions.

We provide training for UNISON reps to understand the process of negotiating and improve their skills.

Learning and training for UNISON reps