Conflict in Labour Relations – What can be done?

Violence erupts in France over proposed workplace layoffs Air France  – According to The Guardian on October 6, 2015, Air France workers rip shirts from executives after airline cuts 2,900 jobs.

 Click here to see full article

Grievances, strikes, and lockout – when does conflict end and violence begin?

Many Human Resources and Industrial Relations professionals freely admit that union management relations, or more commonly known as Labour Relations, is based on an adversarial relationship.

As HR professionals we must ponder what that term “adversarial relationship” really means.

Does it simply mean the parties, union and management, have a different outlook? Or does it mean there is a fundamental difference in values. Or even more simply, are both parties just inherently selfish and greedy, and that is why there is tension and conflict!

Most industrial countries have well developed labour laws; such as, certification, grievance, arbitration, conciliation and mediation. These laws are specifically designed to reduce the conflict between the parties.

With all these safe guards, why does conflict cross the line and become violence – as in the Air France case, where seemingly normal workers resorted to ripping the shirts of their bosses’ backs when massive layoffs were announced.

When a society sees acts of violence like this, the automatic response is to condemn it, and rightfully so. However, once that is done, the society must ask themselves what is the true cause?  It is 2015, we are 216 years pass the French Revolution, 175 years pass the Industrial Revolution, and yet we are still erupting into violence in the streets over work.

It really makes you ask yourself, “Hmm, where in the world is the relationship in Labour Relations going?”

Discussion Questions

  1. What can employers and unions do to avoid these issues and fundamentally alter this adversarial relationship?
  2. What is a HR department to do with the employees – discipline the employees or press criminal charges?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winning or Losing in Labour Negotiations

The Art of Hearing in Labour Negotiations

 

Is there a difference between hearing and listening? Yes, there is; especially in labour contract negotiations?

Hearing is a physical action that takes place whether we are conscious of it or not.

Listening is different, listening occurs when we place cognitive meaning on what we have heard.  To be successful in labour negotiations. listening is one activity you must excel at.

A very wise executive coach, Kent Osbourne once taught me that “listening is a decision” not a skill.   When I am at the negotiation table I make an extreme effort to listen. Making a decision to listen during negotiations has been instrumental through my collective bargaining career.

Ken Godevenos gives some great advice on the art of collective bargaining. Mr. Godevenos stresses the point; what is said at the negotiation table is not always what it seems.

My motto is, an excellent negotiator must become a master of “what is not said” and listen to what message is truly being delivered.  If you can do that you will be well on your way to success at the negotiation table.

Discussion Questions

  1. Name five things a Human Resources Professional can do to improve their success in labour contract negotiations.
  2. How would you specifically try to improve your listening?
  3. How would you practise listening for upcoming negotiations?

 

Good Faith vs. Bad Faith

Nothing seems to drive a collective bargaining process into the ground more than the perception that one of the parties is not playing by the rules.  A key principle, that is enshrined in the legal process of collective bargaining, is the concept of bargaining in good faith.

It is, in fact, more than just a concept.

When parties agree to bargain in good faith, they agree to honour the rules that they make with each other before the bargaining process even begins.  These mutually agreed upon rules include items such as how communication will happen to each of the parties’ respective constituencies and, in the case of public sector bargaining, how information will be communicated to the public at large.  The setting of the ground rules between the parties is as serious as the content and the issues that are discussed at the bargaining table.  Setting the ground rules for bargaining is part of the legal environment and processes that enable fair, honest, and open negotiations to take place.

As with all kinds of rule based settings, when one of the parties appears to be breaking the rules or does not seem to be playing by the rules, the other party gets upset.  When this happens, the other party typically reacts in a negative way, which is not a surprise!  Suddenly, the issues at the table take second place, as the negotiations process stalls and hostile allegations of bad faith bargaining start to take hold.

This seems to be the case as the collective bargaining process continues to unfold in the education sector in Ontario.

Click here to read the article.

What makes this particular bargaining process more complex is that there are three parties at bargaining table: the government, the union, and the provincial association representing public school boards.  Resolutions to these types of allegations and bargaining processes are never easy.  Hopefully, all of the parties will be able to see their way through the layers of complexity and conflict in order to find a way to negotiate and to honour the bargaining process between them.

Discussion questions

  1. What was the agreed upon rule that appears to have been broken?
  2. What are the possible implications of filing a claim of bad faith with the Labour Board?
  3. Why is the issue of communication so important to each of the parties in this process?
  4. As a member of one of the bargaining teams, what steps would you take to resolve these allegations?

Let’s Celebrate Labour Day, eh?

A History Worth Understanding.

Every day that they put this legislation off to the future is more time to negotiate.”   –    Sid Ryan.

 As Canadians, we enjoy a remarkable history related to the development of unions and the labour movement.   This historic past is built on the need for social change that provides a future benefit to all of us as workers in Canada.   Most of Canadian labour history provides evidence of our more peaceful natures as powerful union leaders; such as, Sid Ryan’s use effective negotiation skills to achieve legislative changes.  There are however, critical moments in our collective history based on violence and turbulent times.  All of this history continues to be celebrated annually on Labour Day, which is a statutory Canadian federal holiday.

The importance of Labour Day and its connection to the history of the labour movement is highlighted in the following article:

Click here to read the article

Since this article was first published, in 2009, there have been numerous legislative changes that have continued to improve the lives of Canadian workers as a result of the drive and dedication of the labour movement in Canada.  The future of the labour movement in Canada is built on numerous significant events from the past.

Unions have drastically altered our society and our economy. We have all benefited from the labour movement for such things as workplace safety, greater vacation, and maternity and parental leave benefits.  When we remember the past and think about the future, do we want to live in an economy or do we want to live in a society with an economy? Unions support the latter and continue to change history as a result.

Clearly, history does not stop.   It provides us with pictures of moments in time that we may not recognize as important when they are happening. Labour Day provides us with an opportunity to celebrate our collective labour history, reflect on those important moments in time, and to honour our past as we look to the future.

Discussion Questions:

  1. This article is dated from 2009. Identify new workplace legislation that has been implemented since that time either federally or in the province where you live. What is the link between each piece of new legislation and the labour movement?
  2. What types of workplace benefits do you enjoy as a result of the labour movement in Canada?
  3. Which historic labour-related event do you think has had the most impact on the lives of Canadian workers?
  4. How do you celebrate labour day?
  5. Will you participate in the next Labour Day parade in your community? Why or why not?
  6. What would prompt you to participate in a Labour Day parade?

Learning the Rules and Language of Labour Relations

The world of Labour Relations (LR) can often be an intimidating place for Human Resources (HR) Professionals.  The intimidation stems from many HR Professionals not yet being exposed to the process nor the language of LR.

The Government of New Brunswick has provided a great overview of what they call Industrial Relations (IR). You will see, in Canada, IR and LR are used synonymously to represent a unionized workplace.

It takes a novice HR Professional through the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about LR such as:

  • Certification process
  • Collective agreements
  • Grievances and arbitration
  • The role of the provincial labour boards

Click here to read the full resource.

Of course this is a brief review, but it is a great starting point.

Once an HR Professional has learned the basics of the LR process they can turn their attention to the Language of LR.  Luckily the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has developed another excellent resource.

Click here to read the CUPE Glossary of LR terms. 

All HR Professionals should familiarize themselves with the basic process and the terms of LR.  This is a fantastic starting point in understanding the complex world of LR.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why would knowing LR terms be beneficial to a new HR Professional?
  2. If you had to give a 5 minute presentation on the LR terms where would you start?
  3. What terms would you prioritize?