Trade Union action is on the rise in the UK. There have been many headlines recently about threats of, and actual, strike action. This level of union unrest hasn’t been seen for over 30 years, so it will be new territory for many managers and HR professionals. Inexperience and a lack of understanding of the process and positioning can lead to managers feeling bruised after meetings with union representatives and members. So how can HR teams support managers with trade union relationships during these times? Here’s 3 ideas from our IR team:
Many organisations will train their managers (and HR) in the legal aspects of working with trade unions. Taking this a step up by training them to develop and maintain effective working relationships with unions will pay dividends for their everyday dealings with union representatives and when disputes arise.
Some organisations also provide development that goes beyond the legal framework. These organisations provide managers with skills and techniques to diffuse industrial relations-related conflict and deal with the challenging conversations with TU representatives to keep the relationship constructive. If industrial action is likely, it is always helpful to include techniques to help managers demonstrate that they are treating the team inclusively, irrespective of their team members’ TU membership status and whether or not they participate in the action.
Trade Unions ensure that their representatives receive relevant information such as:
- Sector pay data
- Historical data from bargaining or previous disputes and any organisational documents which may help to support their case.
HR can ensure that managers aren’t on the back foot by:
- Maintaining records of historical internal data.
- Providing organisational documents..
- Researching external benchmarks and best practice examples to share.
Trade Union representatives often fight hard for their members and it can sometimes be difficult for managers not to take things personally. HR can make sure that the responsibility is shared by staying alongside and supporting managers in their dealings with Trade Unions and helping to find common goals.
HR also have a role to play in pulling together leaders in the organisation, who may not be directly involved in the process, to demonstrate their support to the managers on the front line.
Even where a dispute feels incredibly adversarial, organisations who get this right find that the relationships between managers and unions can be very different outside of the ‘combat zone’, with both parties having great respect for each other. It just takes a bit of strategic planning and effort in relationship building.
If you’re facing threats of industrial action and have any questions, you can speak to our Head of Industrial Relations, Chris MacNaughton by getting in touch with the team here. And don’t miss the rest of our IR advice on the dedicated section of the resource hub here.