HR Advisors Conference Blog

Further thoughts from the conference or about the challenges of being in an HR Advisory role.

Working with unions

André Lubbe, Head of ER for Auckland Council presented at the HR Advisors Conference in Auckland about how to work productively with unions.

2017-02-28 09.45.34

He started by outlining the 4 different models he has seen for engaging with unions.

  1. Active Opposition: this is the most difficult situation for everyone concerned but an approach that some companies take. André is pleased he hasn’t worked for an organisation that wanted to take this approach but has had clients who wanted to. He doesn’t believe that it pays off as it takes a large amount of resource and cost to challenge everything.
  1. Arm’s length: you tolerate each other and do the least needed to keep the relationship going. Unions sometimes want to be arms length and no look like they are involved too much. This approach can be unsatisfying in the long term.
  1. Working relationship: this is probably where most employers and unions end up. There is constructive engagement when needed, on a case by case basis. There is no strategic agreement on how you deal with each other. You both do your thing and get together when needed.
  1. Partnership: Auckland Council has been working towards this with the PSA and increasingly, within New Zealand and internationally, large employers are moving to such a mode

To decide on what approach you take:

  • What is on your business radar? What’s your IR strategy? If you’re about to go into a large restructure, then being in active opposition with the Union is going to create even more challenges.
  • What is your Union’s attitude to you? While André was at ANZ he found the Union wanted to remain at arms length. If there’s a MECA in place and one Union doesn’t get many fees, they may not want a partnership.
  • What % of employees are union vs non union? If there’s only 10% of employees who are union members, it may be counter productive to put lots of time and energy into a partnership. You may disengage the 90% of employees who aren’t in the union.

How have Auckland Council built a partnership?

Auckland Council have 400 union members concentrated in 2 areas, and a MECA in place. They ran a 4 day workshop to develop a vision and included the PSA in this. This has set a benchmark of what the relationship should look like and whether things are matching that.

Through 2 Collective negotiations, André has found that having the behaviours in place means the negotiations have been a positive, constructive forum to discuss issues. They used an interest based approach rather than an exchange of claims and André thinks we will see more of this in the future.

The way we work

To make it work it relies on:

  • Both parties being committed to it
  • Excellent facilitation – someone guiding the conversation

André said that if you keep putting yourself in the Union’s shoes and try and see it from their side – it will help you work better together.

A couple of interesting questions then came from those attending:

Sometimes trust seems to disappear. What can you do?

André said that with the 16 behaviours that Auckland Council developed, this behavioural model is useful when you hit speed bumps. You can go back to the Union and review how each party should behave, and what’s happening.

We had a new organiser who was aggressive. Issues HR had to deal with went from 10% of their time, to 40%. How can you deal with this?

André answered that some Union organisers are good, and some aren’t so good. They don’t often get training on developing relationships with organisations. You can try and have a direct conversation with the union or escalate. However another approach is to talk to the Union Delegates in your business and explain how you would like to see things happening. André said that Auckland Council also run training for Union Delegates to grow their skills and have a Delegate framework. They would like well rounded delegates not people with one issue.

Thank you to André for a great presentation!

 

The HR Advisors Conference next travels to London, UK on 12 – 13 July. For more information just click here. Then in Melbourne on 10 -11 October. For more click here.

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This entry was posted on April 20, 2017 by in Operational HR work and tagged , , .

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