Mimicking a bargaining process
- Unions haven’t quite mastered how to prioritise their demands.
- Many unions unwisely prefer appointing a spokesperson instead of having a panel at the negotiating table. This means the burden of arguing the bargaining case falls on one person. The bosses can try to isolate, influence or break the union spokesperson. Employers always send a team to the bargaining table, and every team member is an expert in a particular field and can therefore rebut effectively.
- When cornered, the strategy of unions is often to disrupt the meeting and quickly revise their offer. Sometimes negotiators drop from a double-digit to a single digit without interrogating the potential outcomes and effects. And it doesn’t help that media fails to highlight the unions’ position to the widest possible audience.
- The kind of demands forwarded illustrated strained bargaining relations between labour and State. Some of the demands are covered by labour legislation that is worker-friendly. Generally, States are responsible for the development of sound labour laws to promote peace and policies such as the National Minimum Wage.
- Domestic workers at the forum showed vulnerability despite the provisions in sectoral determinations. Workers in domestic and other vulnerable sectors face a lot of intimidation. Their employers don’t want them to join a union. And their bargaining case gets stifled because the process often happens in the homes of employers.
- Plant level negotiations are ideal because shop stewards know the history and profitability of companies.
So, what did we learn from the simulation exercise?
Summary of lessons learned
- A negotiator should have good communication and problem-solving skills, be able to collaborate, innovate, compromise and use verbal and non-verbal techniques
- Watch out for emotional, technical and economic factors. They can influence decisions
- It’s important to introduce everyone in your negotiating team before the process starts. It establishes the team’s credibility.
- There’s need to support shop stewards in leading certain demands at the bargaining table. This will strengthen the unions’ voice, and management would have to deal with different personalities and different strengths
- You need to prepare well, learn to persevere and master the concept of “squeezing the employer.” You must remember that employers wish to pay as little as possible for labour. They also know your first demand isn’t final. Thus, don’t revise your demands too quickly. Also, you must have a fall-back position, but don’t disclose it too early
- You should have three or four demands and refrain from developing a ‘shopping list’. Do proper research on those demands and have your own role-play before meeting with the employer
- You can’t discuss any demands that weren’t considered and discussed with workers before the negotiation event, no matter how important they might seem
- You should call for a caucus if the meeting isn’t yielding the results you anticipated. That’s a better strategy than disrupting the meeting all the time
- When you deadlock and go on strike, keep the community abreast. Explain the reasons for striking so that workers can get support and sympathy of the broader community. The driving motivation for capitalist investment and production is profit, according to sociologist Erik Olin Wright. Capitalist motivations erodes solidarity and the values of the community, writes Wright in, How to be an anti-capitalist in the 21st century
- Remember that collective bargaining is about creating labour peace and maintaining a reasonable standard of living
- Have concrete strategies for resistance. Disrupting the meeting is interpreted as a sign of bad faith
- The bargaining space isn’t a space to strategise around yourself. It’s disturbing that unions get blamed when things go south. Take the example of the recent bus strike
- The employer comes with a purpose: to frustrate and intimidate you. The employer might table a 52-page financial report or statements. This is intimidating if you don’t have financial or research skills. Consult your experts and labour support organisations so that you can have an effective strategy of neutralising your opponent
- You should have a communication strategy to ensure your members know how the negotiations are progressing. Don’t let the media hijack the communication role
Some remarks from the floor
I am sad to see what this beautiful process has become.
I am shocked to see how unprepared we often are. We need to reflect with our teams on this
I am angry at the arrogance of employers
I am humbled to see how hard we try to get the best deal for our members even under such harsh circumstances