Engaging at work
It takes a bit of boldness for an employer to decide to engage its workforce in a serious way over workplace change. It certainly involves a lot more than merely "communicating the message" in what is usually quite a directive and even patronising way. Our experience, though, is that when trust is shown in others and a sensible framework for discussion set up, people turn out to be both refreshingly reasonable and imaginative. Good solutions to problems are found, provided one is robust enough to appreciate that some negotiation must be leavened into the expansive problem-solving process.
One of our more rewarding bargaining roles in recent times has occurred in the context of the Queensland Department of Employment & Industrial Relations' Smart Workplaces initiative. This program aimed at demonstrating the link between cooperative workplace relations and productive results. CoSolve was selected to run projects at two pilots sites, one in the aged care sector - the state's biggest aged care services provider, Blue Care, and the Queensland Nurses Union were the principal parties here - and one in the manufacturing sector - Berri Juices and the AMWU and NUW. In both cases the parties concerned elected to go with a fully-fledged mutual gains approach, and in both cases the parties were satisfied with the outcomes. The QNU had this to say in the August 2008 edition of The Queensland Nurse:
"A case study in negotiating a successful agreement"
"The final agreement, which was successful at ballot last month, was negotiated through a mutual gains process where both parties identify their key interests and formulate an end agreement to best match those interests. This is the first time that Blue Care/Wesley Mission Brisbane and the QNU have used this unique approach during negotiations. Under this process the parties do not come into negotiations with fixed positions under a traditional log of claims, but are encouraged to identify their key underlying interests, and then bargain creatively and constructively so that the end agreement best matches those interests.
Bargaining was conducted in a generally cooperative, friendly and productive way with CoSolve's assistance. Certain issues such as workloads were tackled through problem-solving rather than in a combative way. This approach probably helped in achieving easier and better agreement on provisions around career progression and workloads, where the QNU was prepared to trial workload tools such as shift lengths and hours changes which it probably would not have in a more traditional negotiation. This did not mean that reaching agreement on the best way forward necessarily came easy or was without some very vigorous debate."
The bargaining process also delivered at the manufacturing site. Appropriate increases were negotiated for the workforces as a whole, and the engineers received an additional market adjustment of 12 percent. A new consultative forum was established to carry forward initiatives developed in the Smart Workplaces program such as continuous improvement, training and the investigation of gain-sharing.
The following observations give a sense of how the parties felt about the whole exercise:
‘I thought the whole process of engagement was brilliant. The best thing was the opportunity to see things from both sides'
- Lead union delegate
‘Our union does not normally engage in hand-holding, but this mutual gains process worked well and the outcome was pleasing'
- Union official
‘Several months after the formal negotiations have concluded, there is still a firm sense of respect, tolerance and understanding amongst the parties who made up the original negotiating team - this enduring relationship is one of the key cornerstones to the success of the Smart Workplaces initiative
- HR manager
‘The bargaining process was professionally conducted, and the mutual gain we achieved would not have happened without the assistance of Smart Workplaces. The [business process improvement] projects were a great success'
- Site manager
We have done work for parties such as Shell Australia & the CFMEU (Mining & Energy Division); Sydney Symphony Orchestra and its employees; The Smith Family & the ASU; BHP-Billiton and the CFMEU (Mining & Energy Division), Air New Zealand and relevant unions; South African Airways and the SAA Pilots Association; Queensland Rail & relevant unions; Ford Australia & the AMWU; National Foods & relevant unions; Botswana Diamond Valuing Company & the Botswana Diamond Sorters and Valuators Union; NSW Fire Brigades & the Fire Brigade Employees Union.