Power-play in trade union bargaining

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Do you understand the process of position bargaining? The annual strikes and protests launched by dissatisfied workers as a result of wage dissagreements is an ongoing concern and Jonathan Goldberg sheds some light on the processes involved in collective bargaining.


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By Jonathan Goldberg
Demands by unions, strikes and the most recent cases of violence and protests have been at the forefront of media coverage in the last couple of months with the focus being the seemingly unbridgeable gap between high wage demands and offers. In order to understand the recent happenings one needs to comprehend the power play and the process of position bargaining and what the actual purpose of a trade union is.
In essence, a trade union is an association of employees who have as their principal purpose to regulate relations between the employer and employee on matters of mutual interest. This includes collective bargaining, dispute resolution, representation in disputes and effectively working together in achieving labour peace in the workplace.
Employees organize themselves in trade unions in order to maximize their collective power in what is called a "power play' against their employer. This ensures that the employees participate in the regulation of their workplace matters.
The more members a union has, the more powerful it becomes and the more rights it becomes entitled to. The various disputes that the union and the employer are involved in and negotiating on can be either "rights' or "interest' disputes. Right disputes are about existing rights, those rights that come from contract or the law. For example, the right not to be unfairly dismissed. Interest disputes are things that the employees want, for example, a wage increase. These disputes are the subject of collective action if the parties cannot come to an agreement.

Different negotiation tactics are applied to achieve settlement as close as possible to the parties? mandates. If the parties cannot settle, strikes, protest marches, picketing and secondary strikes are used to force the hand of the employers. Various types of destructive collective bargaining behaviour can take place during these processes and we are unfortunately seeing a rise in such conduct.
Elements such as aggressive attitudes, unreasonable and dishonesty work against a resolution in the process. Where the parties are unable to find common ground they should not delay in bringing in the services of a mediator or strike resolution expert. An expert in this field will possess the techniques necessary to bring the parties together and attempt to resolve the dispute in a mutually beneficial manner.


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