Young white male in conversation. Credit: Jon Walter

Negotiating and bargaining

Most UNISON branch officers, stewards and safety reps will negotiate with employers at some time. It is how you protect and promote the interests of your members. But it is not a skill that always comes naturally.

Quick facts

As a union rep, you may need to negotiate with managers or employers on behalf of your members. These quick facts on negotiating and bargaining will help guide you through the process.

Existing arrangements

In workplaces where UNISON is recognised, there will probably already be a recognition agreement.

This will set out the procedures for negotiations between management and the unions, and the facilities (such as time off) available to the unions.

Training and support

Negotiating is not always a skill that comes naturally, which is why UNISON provides regular training courses, through the regions, to help support reps in this vital work.

You will not normally be asked to conduct a negotiation alone.

Many branches have negotiating teams made up of branch officers and stewards.

Organising

Negotiating is how branches protect and promote the interests of their members.

The keys to success are organisation, preparation and teamwork.

Workplace bargaining and negotiating is a golden opportunity  to  build a strong local union.

Claims and agreements are a great way of recruiting new members and also getting more members involved in the union.

Your role

As a steward you should:

  • recruit as many members as possible into the union;
  • check all workplaces, departments, work groups and shifts are covered by UNISON stewards and safety representatives;
  • make sure that members’ views and concerns are fed into the bargaining process;
  • keep members informed of developments;
  • canvas members’ views and make sure they are fed back into the negotiation process;
  • encourage members to take part in ballots, surveys, etc;
  • keep members informed of the outcome of any negotiations.

The process

The negotiation process tends to follow a standard pattern, which falls into four recognised stages.

  • Preparation: You need to do careful preparation and research, especially in canvassing the views of your members.
  • The opening: One side tables a proposal and the other side responds. This stage can involve adjournments to collect further information and test out arguments. It also includes identifying the relative importance of issues, fall-back positions and ‘bottom lines’.
  • Trading:  Both sides trade things in order to move from fixed opening positions to an agreement: “We’ll offer x if you’ll agree to y.” Again, there can be lots of adjournments to explore options, test arguments, consult, etc. This stage builds consensus and narrows down the areas of disagreement.
  • Agreement: This should include a phase where the final proposal is put to the members and ends with the agreement being documented for future reference.

Guides

UNISON’s in-depth guides give you the tools you need for effective negotiating and bargaining with employers.

As a rep, you will not normally be asked to conduct a negotiation alone. It is always better to have back-up and support and a range of skills and experience to call upon.

That is why many branches have negotiating teams made up of branch officers and stewards.

UNISON also provides regular training courses, through the regions, to help support reps in this vital work.

Model agreements

Our model agreements can help you when negotiating and bargaining with managers or employers on behalf of UNISON members.

Resources