Dealing with union pay claims: six practical steps to consider

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You may be used to being on the receiving end of a pay claim from a trade union. You may have had a quiet, reasonable relationship with your recognised union, to the point that pay claims come and go virtually without debate. However we’ve noticed a recent change in the number and type of pay claims raised in recent months.

There is change in the air in union circles and not aimed at cooperation. This year’s pay claim may not just be the usual two line note from your existing union representatives requesting a substantial increase in pay and a cut in working hours. It may be four pages of statistics about RPI rates and the cost of living justifying a 6 per cent pay increase across the board.

To help you in your negotiations there are a few practical steps you need to consider before you respond to pay issues in a unionised environment.

  1. Understand the facts – whilst there are lies, damn lies and statistics, there are also well researched, robust sources of data that you can use to inform your position. EEF publish a range of economic data, pay settlement and benchmark reports and can also provide robust statistical analysis to counter cost of living analysis…see here.

  2. How do we deal with these claims? What has been the traditional way of managing these claims? Do we have a consultative committee to discuss these matters? Who sits on it and who convenes it? Where does the claim sit in this process?

  3. Procedure, Procedure, Procedure The way in which trade union relationships are managed has always been through a collective bargaining process defined in a procedure. This is the way historically all disputes have been managed. This gives us three things: first the ability to escalate a dispute through stages to ensure that proper discussion takes place internally and externally before a dispute becomes industrial action. Secondly, it gives you a status quo clause preventing action before the procedure is exhausted. Thirdly, both of these give us time. A dispute can be very raw and emotional at first. Over time things may calm down and a common sense solution found.

  4. Jaw jaw is better than war war It is much easier to find a solution to a dispute before hostilities break out than afterwards. Recognise the emotion in negotiation and deal with it. Many union recognition procedures are old or indeed lost. If you don’t have a disputes procedure then you need one. Write down the rules which govern this process. Speak to your EEF advisor for more support with this. If you do have one then use it wisely.

  5. Encourage sensible debate If you have not engaged with trade union representatives in the past then perhaps it is time to do so. The term we use is collective engagement. Trade unions rely on companies providing gainful employment to their members. We have common interests. Let’s find them together.

  6. Remember External Contact EEF’s traditional role was an external source of advice, information and support to employers across the industry. In the days when industrial action could be organised in 10 minutes (some of us can remember them!) the EEF was a bulwark against these kind of wildcat strikes. Our relationships with external Union officials are often key in breaking deadlock and finding solutions, which is of course the objective. Disputes always have a story but they also come to an end when we all have to work together again. It is always worth remembering that.

 

Following these tips will help you ensure pay claims are handled in a time- and cost-efficient manner that meets the needs of all parties and prevents an escalation of conflict. If your company would like more support with a particular pay issue, get in touch with your EEF adviser call us on 0808 168 5874 or email hrenquire@eef.org.uk

Author

National Head of Employee Relations

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