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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.
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.
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.
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.