Preparing for trade union negotiations | EEF

Preparing for trade union negotiations: Six tips to keep your pay talks on track

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Trade union negotiations can be a stressful time for HR managers, employee relations managers and managing directors. However, with advanced preparation, objective setting and on-site support, negotiations can lead to a win-win result for all involved.

Here are six practical steps to keep your negotiations on track (and for more in-depth tools and training, attend one of EEF’s upcoming briefings on the Trade Union Act.


1. Start the conversation

Set the tone. Your communications processes should be efficient, practical and regular. They should deliver messages about business performance and development which give a context to your pay negotiations. Although these normally only happen once a year, they are often shaped by messages from the business over the year and indeed in past years. Investment in plant, kit, and training employees along with the sheer weight of competitive pressure in engineering/manufacturing today should set the tone of your conversations long before they start.

2. Understand the potential costs and set objectives 

What can your business afford in the short and longer term? Do you want to link a pay rise to better performance or new working practices? Consider whether you have any non-financial sweeteners in your armoury. Be crystal clear about your objectives, but make sure they are realistic (impractical demands will aggravate negotiations). Set a range of limits – from your best possible outcome down to the point at which you would walk away from negotiations. Understand clearly what ‘unviable’ looks like and all the possible alternatives and compromises you might be prepared to offer.

3. Field and prepare your decision makers

Make sure your negotiators are vested with the power to negotiate and that they prioritise enough time to the task. Choose your Chair carefully to match the style and tone of the negotiations and prepare and rehearse arguments.

4. Recognise the emotion

Remain rational and use neutral terms in describing your offer. Define clearly up front what you want to achieve from the negotiation. If negotiations go off track, ask for time out, which can often help restore perspective.

5. Don't allow the union to be the sole communicator

Share or take ownership of communication, perhaps with joint staff meetings, or by sending letters to employees at their homes, if required.

6. Don't give up if negotiations fail

Should you fail to agree a successful settlement, or should your union call in a full-time official, expert assistance is available to help you handle a position of conflict.


Looking for deeper insight into trade union negotiations? EEF’s Employee Relations team is running a series of briefings on recent changes to the Trade Union Act.EEF HR & employment law members can access our range of tools, templated documents & phone and email adviceline related to trade unions.

EEF also offers on-site employee relations consultancy support for businesses of all sizes. For more information on how EEF can help you achieve the outcome you need, speak to our team on 0808 168 5874 or


National Head of Employee Relations

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