- 6500 Electricians to strike in two weeks over pay rates – February ‘14
- SIPTU to set a picket at UCC’s Tyndall Institute over pay issues – February ‘14
- SIPTU 350 members at Shannon Aerospace are to ballot for industrial action at the end of this week – February ‘14
- Labour Court Proposal rejected by SIPTU Staff at Liebherr – January ‘14
These are some of the newspaper headlines over the last number of weeks. Sometimes they appear on the front page sometimes the articles are on the back page. However what is clear from all this, that for some months, that Irish unions are back in action. Two central themes are coming up protection of pension arrangements, especially regarding Defined Benefit pension schemes and pay claims from around 2.5 % which need to be back dated over a couple of years.
If you heard SIPTU’s Jack O’ Connor on RTE Radio recently in discussion with Mark Fielding of ISME and RTE’s George Lee, well discussion you couldn’t really call it as Jack kept interrupting Mark and George consistently. Jack meant business and was highlighting that SIPTU had achieved pay increases in over 100 companies of around 2 – 2.5%.
What is clear is that the worst of the recession is over, the troika have left and the unions are claiming their fair share. With Irish unions this leads to a scramble for who can get most, with around 50 unions trying to out manoeuvre each other. You see Irish Industrial Relations has a tendency to reward the most militant unions, the ones with the highest demands. In industrial action it is not always important what the majority of employees in a company find reasonable and acceptable. No, if a majority of the members of one union decide something then that agenda has to be followed and it doesn’t matter that the union has only a minority of the employees in the company. Here are some golden rules to apply if wage bargaining is to be an issue: –
- Do not negotiate if you do not have to. In most small and medium size companies there is no union recognition and no agreement with the union that new salaries have to be negotiated. So if you do not have an agreement with a union do not negotiateeven if the unions would like to have a place at the table.
- Setting the agenda. Many companies have been caught out by starting talks and not sorting out the agenda and procedure. You could be making a far reaching deal with the union officials only to be confronted with the fact that the union members have the final say on it and reject it. The already far reaching deal has to be renegotiated to include even more concessions. Set up and organise a clear agenda and procedure under which the negotiations take place. Make it clear that what happens when a deal is negotiated and if the union insists that their members have the final vote before it can be accepted, maybe your management board has to have the final vote on it as well and can reject it as well as too far reaching.
- Setting your own objectives. Establish what wage increases you can afford and define three possible settlements from your company’s point of view: the ideal or best possible deal, a realistic or best possible settlement and the worst, though still acceptable settlement. Before setting these objectives make sure you know where your company’s stands compared to other companies in areas such as salary, benefits, compensation, economic growth etc. Know your salary levels compared to your industrial sector and regional salary levels. Is your company paying above or below the average salary levels in your industrial sector and region? Are your benefits and compensation on a par with other industries? Most likely unions will start negotiating with companies they perceive as easy targets to set a trend in wage negations. Always focus on your own situation and make it clear to the union that your company cannot be compared to these easy targets.
- Preparing the case. Once the objectives have been defined, it is necessary to put a case for negotiation together. The bargaining process is one in which attitudes are swayed by a complex mixture of facts, logic, interest, fears and pride. Preparation involves consideration of the information which will be needed to support the case being made. It is essential to consider this from the other party’s view point. Try to establish the unions and employees objectives at the wage negotiations. Try to find out what they negotiated at other companies. Hold a mock bargaining round and let some managers play devil’s advocate, examining your company’s position and probing the company’s arguments for weak points and prepare your answers for the real event.
- Communicate. Before, during and after the wage negotiation keep communicating with your staff, in particular your managers, supervisors and team leaders regarding the company’s point of view and need. Make sure that your managers and supervisors are all aware of these essential points which will ensure the company’s survival. I do not mean to give away the bargaining plan, however, keep them abreast of what you can do regarding wages and benefits and if union objectives are in the interest of the company. Very often only the union communicates effectively with employees during this phase and this will lead to high and unrealistic expectations and difficulties with staff once an agreement is reached.
These are just a few of the practical personnel solutions regarding wage negotiations. There are many more issues to address and many pitfalls to watch out for. If in the next few months you require advice regarding wage negotiations or are suddenly caught in the middle of wage negotiations, I would be delighted to give you any assistance you may need in these uncertain and difficult times.
If you want to discuss People Management with me do not hesitate to contact me at 065 7071933.