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Job reductions - negotiating guidance

Negotiation is a common part of our daily lives. Negotiating as a UNISON representative requires the same skills, together with knowledge and understanding of some of the more formal processes of negotiation. This briefing provides an overview of the negotiation process as well as highlighting some specific issues and sources of information that may be useful when negotiating against job reductions.

Building a Negotiating Team
Organisation is the key to effective negotiating over local government cuts. Before any negotiation actually begins, it is important to consult and prepare. Good organisation can help to solve the problem of having too much to do in too little time. The more people who are involved, and who can share the work, the better.

Stewards should not normally conduct a negotiation alone. It is always better to have back-up and support and a range of skills and experience to call upon. Many branches have negotiating teams made up of branch officers and stewards. Places on the team should be linked to membership constituencies such as departments, sites or occupational groups to ensure that the wide range of UNISON membership affected is represented.

Negotiating teams are ideally made up of individuals with complimentary skills, including: drafting and presentation, bargaining, research, questioning and note taking. Teams may also include, or have access to, specialists in certain areas such as equal opportunities or health and safety. In this situation it is important to have someone within your team who has knowledge/ experience of local government finance, in order that they can assess any proposals regarding job cuts. 

There are a range of useful information sources that may provide valuable data, including the council’s latest Statement of Accounts, budget proposals and any relevant spending priorities contained within various council boards/ committees. It is also useful to check how any job reductions would impact on the council’s Single Outcome Agreement (see P&I Briefing 196).  Most of this information should be available online on the council’s website.

Negotiation – Key Stages
Before entering into negotiations it is worth being aware of what lies behind this process.

Negotiations are a process of exchange, of ongoing dialogue between the employers and the members. It is important to keep that exchange going if there are to be serious negotiations, and progress is to be made towards achieving the union’s goals. It benefits both union members and employers that negotiations are carried out efficiently and for an acceptable agreement to be reached.  If there is a genuine will to reach an agreement there will always be a need for movement by both sides. Although negotiations may become difficult, the framework for a possible final deal needs to be kept in mind.

The role of the negotiator is an important one, requiring some different skills to those you will have used in representing people in grievances and disciplinary cases. The union provides training and backup for all its negotiators, but there are some basic guidelines.

The negotiation process tends to follow a standard pattern, which falls into four recognised stages.

It starts with preparation. You need to do careful preparation and research, especially in seeking the views of members. When dealing with the issue of job reductions it is important to carry out relevant research such as a breakdown of the council workforce and the likely areas for cuts (if they have not already been identified). It is also important to have some information on the impact prospective job losses will have, not just on service users but also on the remaining staff who have to continue to provide this service. This will include implications such as additional workload for remaining staff as well as examining the job reductions in terms of equality duties etc.

As part of your preparation you will have developed a strategic plan of what you want to achieve in the negotiations.

The opening comes next. One side tables a proposal and the other side responds. This stage can involve adjournments to collect further information and test out arguments. It also includes identifying the relative importance of issues, fall back positions and 'bottom lines'.

Trading sees both sides trade things in order to move from fixed opening positions to an agreement: "We'll offer x if you'll agree to y." Again, there can be lots of adjournments to explore options, test arguments, consult, etc. This stage slowly builds consensus and narrows down the areas of disagreement.

Finally, there is agreement, where both parties reach agreement. This should include a phase where the final proposal is put to the members and ends with the agreement being documented for future reference.

Further Information/ Training
Further information on the negotiation process is provided in Local Bargaining, A Guide for UNISON Negotiators (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/11251.pdf) and in UNISON's collective bargaining course.

Training is crucial for negotiators. UNISON Scotland’s Learning and Organising Team provides a range of materials and courses designed to aid the negotiators at national and regional level. These are run regularly and details are available through your regional office.

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