What's In a Bargain?
Over half of our members will be in organisations that are involved with collective bargaining in the foreseeable future. So what does this entail?
Depending on the size of the organisation and the nature of the issues to be addressed bargaining can take from a week, as Nurse Maude recently illustrated, to a couple of years (there are a few that have lasted longer, but fortunately they are the exception).
Bargaining is our core work so we put a lot of emphasis on systems and support. While many of the processes are streamlined, assistant secretary Kerry Davies says that it’s important to recognise that each bargaining situation will be different.
“Good systems are paramount, but we also know there’s not a cookie-cutter approach. For example, collective bargaining in an office situation where there may be hundreds of members will be completely different than collective bargaining for people who may not even go into the same place of work, such as community support workers,” she says.
And that’s where organisers play such a vital role.
“Organisers work with delegates throughout the process, from pre-bargaining, to bargaining, to ratification. They have a vast understanding of what works in different situations and can be helpful in providing guidance to delegates and members.”
Assistant secretary Basil Prestidge says that because of their experience across organisations, organisers can also provide a strategic approach that might otherwise be missing.
“With their broad knowledge across the whole union they can add a national perspective that can be extremely useful, particularly in the planning stages,” he says.
For example, district health boards (DHBs) will be involved in collective bargaining this year both with the PSA and with the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.
Organiser Sue McCullough says that the bargaining teams within each DHB need to be aware of what’s happening in the wider landscape.
“And in this case, while we are negotiating with DHBs the funding issue actually resides at the national level through the Ministry of Health. Each bargaining team needs to take all of that into consideration through each stage of the process,” she says.
Organisers help delegates with work that is required through the process.
“We provide kits to delegates to guide them through the full process and check in on a regular basis to provide support,” says organiser Melinda Derbidge. “Our goal is to help delegates with navigating the process so they can focus on the issues and communicating with members.”
Good communications, good results
Communication with members is key throughout the process which is why a communications plan is such an essential part of the pre-bargaining work.
“Pre-bargaining sets the stage for what issues will be addressed through bargaining. That usually includes sending out emails requesting input and holding one or more member meetings so that issues can be discussed and, if agreed to, endorsed,” organiser Lenka Tolich Ryall says.
During the bargaining stage, the bargaining team will be representing the PSA members within the organisation. Having an organiser (who steps into the role of advocate through this stage) brings the direct support of the PSA to the bargaining table.
“We have found the team approach to be the most effective,” Kerry says.
During the bargaining stage, the bargaining team, which includes delegates the organiser/advocate, will report back to members following each session.
Ratification is the final stage in the process. For bargaining teams it can require both tenacity and attention to detail.
“Part of the reason we have split the process into three distinct stages,” says Basil, “is that each requires a different type of focus.
“In pre-bargaining emphasis might be on recruitment and getting good systems in place, in bargaining it’s clearly stating the issues raised by members and advocating on their behalf, and in the final stage it’s ensuring we have an outcome that our members are satisfied with. After all, you don’t want to slip when you are that close to the summit.”
How can you participate if your organisation is involved in collective bargaining?
- Take every opportunity you can to provide input. This is your chance to have your say on the issues that matter to you.
- Support the bargaining team – after all they are representing your interests. That means attending meetings, responding to requests, and chipping in where you can. “Even little things like setting up chairs for meetings or posting notices can really mean a lot to the bargaining team.”
- Look for ways to build PSA membership in your organisation – high union member numbers can have a positive influence on collective bargaining and general employment discussions within the workplace.
What about if your organisation is not involved in collective bargaining, but you still want to help?
Even if your organisation is not going through collective bargaining there are often ways you can support other members.
- Stay up to date on collective bargaining occurring your region and sector. Take time to go along to industrial actions when the wider PSA membership is involved.
- Talk with members within your own organisation to see if there are ways you can help as a group.
This article is from the March 2015 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.