Mediation in collective bargaining

The Employment Mediation Services can assist in collective bargaining between employers and unions.

Experienced employment mediators from the Employment Mediation Services are available free of charge to help parties at any stage of the collective bargaining process.

Either party can ask for help from the Employment Mediation Services. Mediation will be offered if both parties agree to attend.

Employment mediators can provide assistance at all stages of collective bargaining:

  • when bargaining is being set up by the parties
  • when the bargaining process arrangement is being negotiated
  • when negotiations are stalled and parties reach deadlock (they can’t agree and can’t move forward)
  • when a strike or lockout is intended
  • during the final settlement steps
  • when there is conflict at the time of ratification of an agreement
  • to facilitate a de-briefing of the process
  • at any other time where the parties think it would be helpful.

Mediators can:

  • assist parties to unravel difficult issues
  • assist parties to develop options
  • steer the parties back into negotiations
  • provide coaching
  • provide the parties with relevant information
  • help with bargaining
  • provide suggestions, options or recommendations for resolving any issues
  • tell you about the impact of behaviour, the things you can do and can’t do and the possibilities for working through problems.

Contact us for more information.

Confidentiality during collective bargaining mediation

The confidentiality obligations that normally apply to mediation don’t apply to collective bargaining. This is because the collective bargaining parties have to report on progress and discuss options with the people they represent, eg union members, executive teams or board members. The parties should agree how they will share information with the people they represent, and others, including the media, as part of their bargaining process agreement.

The parties may agree that some discussions that take place during the mediation shall be confidential, eg commercially sensitive matters or effect the privacy of individuals.

Keeping track of the bargaining process while using a mediator

Mediators can record agreements reached, but the parties are responsible for keeping a record during the whole bargaining process, eg of their decisions or changes to a collective agreement, including while they are using a mediator.

How careful intervention can help the parties

Mediation scenario

It’s been a busy few weeks at Factory K as negotiations for the collective agreement have been in full swing.

The union and Factory K’s negotiating team were working hard to reach an outcome that everybody agreed with. Generally they had been making good progress by working out any issues as they came up. However, when the pay increase for next year came up things ground to a halt. The union negotiators weren’t happy with the percentage increase offered by Factory K and they weren’t willing to concede ground. They had already promised their members that they were committed to securing a better deal for Factory K’s workers on the back of a booming economy and skills shortages.

The Factory K negotiators were also not prepared to compromise at this stage of the negotiations. They were very clear about how big an increase they could afford and they didn’t want to get bogged down with pay talks just yet. There were still lots of other issues on the agenda to cover.

Both parties tried to get around the stalemate but tempers started to fray, and the issue became a major obstacle for the negotiators.

George, Factory K’s advocate, decided that they might need help. He called the employment mediation services for advice.

“If we all agree, I propose we take this issue to mediation. It seems like we’ve all had a gutful of it, so maybe we should talk to an independent person and see if they can help us come up with a solution,” George said at the next meeting.

After a bit of discussion among the parties everyone agreed George’s idea was a good option. Both parties knew the pay issue wouldn’t go away and the situation was only getting more heated.

Mediation Services appointed Frank as the mediator. The first meeting was a bit tense, but slowly the union and Factory K started to work things out.

“I could see how the communication breakdown occurred. Both sides had concerns around the pay issue but they weren’t really listening to each other properly. I thought it would take ages to come to an agreement on the pay increases so we decided to work around it,” Frank said. With Frank’s help, the negotiators on both sides agreed to move on in the meantime and come back to the pay issue later.

“That was a sensible idea. We sidelined the problem and worked out all the other collective agreement details first. After that, the pay issue was a lot clearer,” said George.

“One of the reasons the union wanted the pay increase was to offset other changes in working conditions that we had asked for. Once we had addressed the union’s concerns with changes to other parts of the agreement, it made the discussions about the pay increases much easier.”

“Frank didn’t try to give us the answers but he made sure that we worked together to solve the problem ourselves,” George explained.

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