Industrial disputes

Conducting negotiations to resolve disputes

Guide

Unless you have internal expertise, you may need external specialist negotiators to resolve some disputes.

Who should conduct the negotiations?

In most disputes, negotiating with your workers or their representatives face-to-face will be the quickest, cheapest and easiest way of sorting out the problem. Both parties to the dispute will know what the issues are and can look for solutions that fit your needs.

Where written procedures exist, they will usually specify who should undertake the negotiations at the various stages and how they should be conducted. Such procedures will be the norm where trade unions are recognised.

In larger, more complex disputes, it may be better to enlist trained people to help with the negotiations.

Trade unions can supply their full-time officers to act as negotiators for their members. Employers' organisations and some firms of solicitors or other professional advisers can supply negotiators to employers. See choose a solicitor for your business.

It might be more cost-effective to train particular staff in negotiating skills. Trade unions also provide such training to their workplace representatives.

The Labour Relations Agency can help facilitate negotiations through collective conciliation.

Negotiating styles

There are two main ways to approach negotiations, and which one is used can affect how fast a dispute is resolved.

The first is the positional win-lose approach. Each negotiator will start by making demands, then each will try to trade-off demands against concessions at the best rate they can. All possibilities will be considered as each side will put all their demands as early as possible to get them into the bargain, but this can sometimes be acrimonious and it can lead to long negotiations as each demand is discussed in detail.

The second style employed by negotiators is the principled win-win approach. The two sides compare their overall objectives to find common areas of benefit that can be agreed upon. Often this can be achieved by looking beyond the initial demands to discover the underlying ones.

For instance, do you really want to cut your wages bill or are you actually trying to find a way to increase profitability? Do your workers really want shorter hours or are they looking for more family-friendly and flexible working patterns? The win-win approach is less confrontational but risks being seen as a compromise which may not be the best result for anyone.