Behind the scenes - delegates supporting members
Trained, experienced delegates can play an important role in supporting members who are on the carpet because of a complaint or concern.
Delegates are there to make sure members are treated fairly and with respect. They can call on the PSA’s organising and legal teams for additional expertise when it’s needed. And at any time, delegates can get immediate advice from the team at the organising centre which is only a phone call away.
We talked to some delegates about how they see their role in supporting and advocating for members when there’s a problem at work.
Corinne Young is a hospital psychologist with a lot of experience in supporting members as a PSA delegate.
She is concerned that cuts to health funding are adding to workload stress which in turn aggravates tensions in the workplace. “There’s no slack time when you catch up with your reading or talk to colleagues. Morale is very low.”
It’s an environment ripe for problems and conflict. Staff can find themselves having to face a manager because a complaint or concern has been raised.
“My role as a delegate is to meet with the member first and try and establish what has gone on,” says Corinne. “I’m there to support members to tell the truth as they understand it to be.”
Amelia Manson, a senior policy analyst at the Office of Treaty Settlements, is another delegate with years of experience under her belt. Like Corinne, she is often called upon to support a member who is in some sort of difficulty.
“Every situation is completely different. It might be performance-based issues, or personality issues or issues around the management of work. Whatever it is, my over-riding goal is to make sure the member gets the appropriate help.”
Often, situations arise that aren’t anyone’s fault but are about perceptions poor communication, she says. “It may be that a member feels they have too much work, while the ministry doesn’t understand the pressure that person is under.”
Finding out what’s going on is the important first step in the process, says Amelia. “It’s essential to meet with the member before going into a meeting with manager or HR so we can tease out what’s going and, importantly, why.
“I have a two-pronged approach: first, to know exactly what’s being talked about; and second, to listen and understand in the context of each party’s obligations.
She says that supporting a member starts with careful listening and knowing the rules and code of conduct and what the collective agreement says.
“It’s also about working out where a concern is valid or where it’s being exaggerated by either party. This will help decide the course of action that will best support the member.”
Whether it’s a minor complaint she’s dealing with or something more serious, Amelia says it’s important that everyone comes out of the situation feeling they’ve been treated fairly and with respect. Even if there is no good outcome, people need support to go through the process with as much dignity as possible.
Trained and experienced delegates are there to make sure that when things go wrong, members get a proper hearing and are treated fairly, she says.
“I don’t think you can over-estimate the importance of delegates who can work with members and employers to get the best outcome.”
The art of representing members
Christine Pattison has been a delegate at the Ministry of Social Development for nearly eight years and says trained delegates are vital to the workplace.
“The more experienced you are, the more comfortable members are about coming forward and asking for advice. If they ask the question at the first point, we might be able to quickly resolve the matter instead of having to go through a formal process.
“I think experienced delegates are a benefit for the employer as well as for members because it often means issues get dealt with more quickly.”
But when a member does need support, Christine’s first step is to talk with them before going into a meeting with management or HR to try to get to the root of the problem.
It might be a particular incident but Christine says often it’s a personality issue and people might need support in talking to each other and resolving it.
“There are two important things I’ve learned that help establish the groundwork. First, you need to ensure the member knows you will always be honest with them.
“Second, you need to know what outcome the member is seeking, and what the employer is looking for. Sometimes you can get caught up in an issue and it drags out when the outcome that’s wanted is as simple as an apology.”
Christine says it helps if there is already a relationship of trust. “It means you can be more frank, whether it’s with members, the manager or the HR person. But every situation is different: what works in one might not work in another.”
It’s important that members understand that a delegate is a support person, not a legal representative, and that’s something that Christine makes clear.
“If a member is going down a path where you feel you might not have the skills to support them, you need to bring in an organiser and legal support through the organiser. As delegates, we can’t under-estimate the value of that.”
This article is from the December 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.