In any effective labour-management strategy, the need for powerful communication between the parties is paramount. Organizations use the tool of the labour-management committee process and structure in order to achieve this need.
Labour-management committee meetings are typically ascribed in a collective agreement. The process as outlined in the language of the collective agreement may include:
- the timing of meetings
- where the meetings will take place
- how many representatives are designated for both employer and union side
The purpose of the labour-management committee process is usually defined so as to promote and pursue harmonious relations between the parties through these meetings in order to ensure effective communication.
As we know through our industrial relations studies, the collective agreement is the employment contract between two parties – the employer and the union representing a particular group of employees. Both parties must abide by the specific language in the collective agreement. Otherwise, the contract (in the form of the collective agreement) has been violated.
Labour-management committee meetings are supposed to enable the union and the employer to check in with each other on common issues, identify common concerns and, hopefully, work through to solutions in a constructive way from a problem-solving perspective.
In theory, all of this should be implemented smoothly given the commitment by both parties to abide by the collective agreement. Reality, however, offers a different perspective for our consideration.
In an article published by the Queen’s University Center for Industrial Relations, Gary Furlong explores the mutual dynamics of some of the power struggles and communication issues that are typical in the real-world experience of labour-management processes.
As noted in this article, while it assesses the challenges from both an employer and union perspective, the focus is on how the employer’s actions impact the labour relationship.
From the union side the perspective is, not surprisingly, a bit different.
A recently published article by rankandfile.ca offers a view of the labour-management process from the union side. The article itself is clear through its title ‘How to Act Like a Union on a Labour Management Committee’.
This article provides us with an excellent perspective on how the union views itself as the collective entity through the consistent application of solidarity, always. It provides us with the understanding that the labour-management committee process is to be used as an extension of the collective bargaining process.
Also, it identifies that even the seating arrangements during a labour-management meeting must honour the single voice and the identity of the union as one collective source. To try to separate union members during a meeting through seating arrangements is not an acceptable practice as it is perceived as unequal treatment. The only equal parties in a labour management meeting are the entity of the employer and the entity of the union – not individuals who may speak from multiple, self-reflective perspectives.
Does this approach ascribed to the union fly in the face of harmonious relations between the parties? Not necessarily.
Understanding the other side is the first step in the development of effective relationships. Implementing that understanding remains the challenge for us all.
- How can the Human Resources role facilitate effective labour-management communication?
- Do you agree with the perception that seating arrangements matter in a meeting setting? Why or why not?
- As the employer representative in a labour-management committee meeting, how will you respond to the collective approach described in the union-side article?
- Why is the need to ensure that committee meetings are extensions of the collective bargaining process important to the union? How can this approach be used effectively by the employer?