people having a meeting

Pay negotiation and bargaining

Negotiation and bargaining: an introduction

Most UNISON representatives, branch officers, stewards and safety reps will have to negotiate with management as part of their union work.

Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation between employers and union reps. The outcome should be an agreement that improves conditions for workers. Negotiation and bargaining happens at both local and national levels.

The process of negotiation and bargaining

Many negotiations begin when a UNISON official writes to the employer to lodge a claim. The UNISON rep will then meet with management to present the case. A series of meetings to discuss the issue usually follows.

Who negotiates?

Union members, reps, stewards and managers should all take part in negotiations, even in small organisations.

The number of people involved in negotiations will depend on the organisation. For major negotiations, a UNISON regional organiser should be present.

Once your team has agreed on the position you will take, one person should present it. No one else should speak or interrupt and if a team member disagrees with the lead negotiator, they should ask for a break to discuss this.

Tips for successful negotiation and bargaining

Negotiation and bargaining are skills that we can all learn and develop. Here are a few pointers for successful negotiations:

  • organise your team – discuss the issue thoroughly and write down your case in plain, simple language;
  • get a UNISON rep to represent you;
  • learn negotiation skills: UNISON’s Learning and Organising Services Department offers materials to help you become a better negotiator;
  • be willing to make concessions: bargaining and negotiation is often about finding solutions that work for members and your employer.

Read more about UNISON’s Learning and Organising Services department and the wealth of information available from the Bargaining Support team.

Why do negotiations fail?

Some reasons why negotiations fail to achieve constructive results include:

  • one or both sides have unrealistic expectations;
  • failure to communicate interest in offers;
  • focusing on the threat of redundancy rather than issues;
  • genuine disagreement about facts, principles or rights;
  • failure by negotiators to keep UNISON members informed.
  • If negotiations fail, UNISON may then take industrial action against an employer.

Read more about industrial action.

Next steps for UNISON reps

Learn more about bargaining and negotiating with help from UNISON’s Learning and Organising Services.

Encourage people to become stewards, safety reps, and encourage members to attend meetings and get involved.

Survey members to learn about issues affecting your workplace. This can help you decide what issues should be raised with management.


Pay negotiation and bargaining

  • When is the right time for negotiation?

    When a group of employees are dissatisfied with their working conditions and can’t resolve the problem informally, they may ask UNISON to help them improve the situation.

    Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation between employers and their employees, which is aimed at reaching agreements to improve conditions.

  • Who should be involved in the negotiating and bargaining process?

    It is always best to meet management in a team made up of co-workers, UNISON members, reps, stewards and branch officials, even in small organisations. The number of people that should be involved in negotiations depends on the organisation. For major negotiations, a regional officer should be present.