When a problem at work seems insoluble, your organiser might suggest using Mediation Services. A mediator will help the employee and the employer talk through the issues and find a resolution.
Mediators work for the Department of Labour, now part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. They don’t take sides but are there to help people find solutions they can live with.
You’ve got nothing to lose
by Kathy, a PSA member
“My PSA organiser recommended I go to mediation. I knew it was the last step before things got legal and formal and really intense.
One of the most important things for me was to get out everything I needed to say to my employer. This was my one opportunity to do that and I got to do it first thing so that was really helpful for me.
I knew the idea the idea of mediation was to talk and say what needs to be said and, hopefully, come to some sort of resolution. There’s a very strong drive to get a resolution both parties can live with.
It took six hours which was unusual but I think my employer was responsible for that. I’m quite sick and having chemotherapy so it was a very long day for me. That was the negative. But the mediator was great and we did get an outcome I can live with, and probably the employer thought they could live with it too.
It wasn’t perfect but it was a compromise and I’m comfortable with it. It was a process I would rather not have had to go through but in the end it was worth it.
It was everything to have PSA organisers Tracy and David with me. I would have been lost without them. I also had my sister, my partner and a representative from the Cancer Society. I thought the mediator was wonderful, really warm and good at what she did.
I would recommend mediation to other members because once things get legal they gets really ugly and long-winded. It’s certainly worth a shot because the worst that can happen is you won’t resolve it and you can then go to the Employment Authority. You’ve got nothing to lose. I suggest people give it a try.
Speaking your truth
by Evana Belich, mediator
“We were set up to assist people to resolve problems in their employment relationships. Mediators work with the parties to help them reach a wise resolution of their problems. We are not judges. We are trained in things like listening, summarising the issues and helping the parties generate options to resolve the problem.
I think it can be very beneficial to speak your truth, though of course it can be uncomfortable to listen to a different perspective. There are two sides to the coin.
The most common issues we deal with are personal grievances and many of those would be dismissals. However, we do encourage people to use mediation before a problem reaches the crisis point of feeling you’ve got to leave your employment.
We have a very good workbook we send out to people beforehand that helps them think about the issues most important to them, what they do need to do to resolve them, and how they are going to talk about them.
If the employee has a union official with them, they can ask that person to do all the talking, but it’s often useful if they talk as well. It’s a big advantage if people are union members and have that support and a spokesperson if they feel the need.
Mediation is the primary dispute resolution system. It’s pretty nigh impossible to go straight to the Authority without going to mediation first. The Authority will send you back to mediation.
I think mediation works incredibly well. The service is free. But if people aren’t union members and want representation, they will get a large bill from their lawyer. Being a union member makes a massive difference.
Free and confidential
by Fleur Fitzsimons, PSA lawyer
“Mediation provides a way of helping workers resolve employment relationship problems with their employers. Any employee can use it and it’s free.
The problem could be to do with how a collective agreement is interpreted, or when someone considers they are being treated unfairly, or a more serious problem when a worker considers they have been unjustifiably dismissed.
The best thing about mediation is that it’s confidential and provides a safe way of resolving differences. You can say things in mediation you wouldn’t say on the record.
It offers a vital service for employees as it’s free and easy to access. It takes the heat out of issues and provides a forum where people have to listen and to present their views in a rational way. The safety of confidentiality helps with that.
The PSA uses mediation for resolving personal grievances between a worker and an employer – for example, if there’s talk of dismissal. We also use it to resolve wider disputes between groups of workers and management to help set up some processes and protocols to create a better workplace.
Without mediation, there would be a huge amount of costly litigation in courts. It would lead to widespread disharmony in workplaces because problems could not be resolved cheaply and quickly.
A good process
by Josh, a PSA member
“There was a point of difference between me and my employer that needed a third person to help us out. I’d already had a meeting with HR but felt my viewpoint was ignored.
I was nervous about going to mediation but thought it was a way to get things out in the open. Having a PSA organiser with me made things a lot easier as he knew the process and what to expect.
When we arrived, we discussed my issues with the mediator, then we had a discussion with the employer. After that, we each had private sessions with the mediator. It meant that both viewpoints were looked at. I felt the mediator gave good advice.
There was a resolution with both sides acknowledging they’d made mistakes. There was no monetary settlement but I’m still employed.
I am pleased I went to mediation. I thought it was a good process and the more who know about it, the better for everyone. There are situations that are unfair and the employer needs to be held accountable.
This article is from the June 2013 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.