Essential principles in collective bargaining

Dear Editor,
The restoration of collective bargaining in the public service between the public authority and the Guyana Public Service Union is a welcome development. This is observing the treaty obligations flowing from the International Labour Convention No 151 – Labour Relations (Public Service) 1978, ratified by Guyana in June 1982. This Convention provides for the protection of public employees’ right to organise and collective bargaining, procedures for dispute settlement through negotiations, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration. Convention 151 confers similar rights flowing from Convention No 98 – Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, applicable to the private sector.
The public authorities need to be mindful of International Treaty obligations of International Labour Conventions, ratified by Guyana, and national laws on the conduct of labour and industrial relations, including Trade Union Recognition Act Chapter 98:07, No 33 of 1997 which imposes an obligation on the union and employer to bargain in good faith and enter into negotiations with each other for the purpose of collective bargaining.
The principles and practice of good faith bargaining in collective bargaining requires the practice of industrial diplomacy of mutual respect, and trust in civil encounters, including:
* Adequate preparations on both sides for serious negotiations.
* A determination by both sides to forge mutual agreements.
* That the negotiating parties have a full mandate to agree on all issues on the negotiating table without frequent adjournments to consult higher authority. The negotiating teams should come to the table knowing fully the absolute limit of concessions and acceptance.
* The public service negotiating team should be given the absolute percentage or dollar amount of the wage bill for increases in salaries/wages and allowances which it can distribute and concede through the cut and thrust of negotiations.
* Negotiations are private, confidential processes, and should be free from premature media publicity and before the conclusion of full agreement or otherwise.
* Communication to the media during the course of negotiations, if necessary, should be by joint releases.
* All cost items of salaries/wages and allowances, etc should be on the negotiation table to determine the total increase in employment costs to the national treasury.
* It is prudent to treat all negotiating items – salaries, wages, allowances, etc as a total package with the understanding that agreement on a single item is subject to agreement on all cost items, to avoid a more costly piece-meal approach.
Lack of good faith bargaining constitutes the power approach in labour negotiations including: building up expectations of staff with unrealistic proposals at general meetings, agitation in the media before dialogue/discussions, ‘negotiating’ in the media, misinformation to the media, unnecessary threats of industrial actions, external influences and pressures, public demonstrations, public agitation, illegal actions, political and external lobbying during the course of negotiations, and personal attacks on the integrity of the members of either negotiating team or on the union or public authority.
The parties should be aware that four possible approaches can be adopted by either or both parties in labour negotiations and in the management of labour conflicts:
Avoidance approach: failure or refusal to deal with the issue; settlement by chance.
Power approach: coercion to force the other side to concede; settlement by force, industrial actions – strikes, lockouts, etc.
Rights approach: independent standards of right or fairness; settlement by a labour tribunal, arbitration or by a court of law.
Consensus approach: the best and preferred approach which endeavours to reconcile, compromise or accommodate. The superiority of the consensus approach reflects settlement by the parties through direct negotiations or conciliation/mediation, or another mutually agreed means for final resolution
One would expect the parties in the public sector would set a good example to the national community by eschewing of the power approach and employing the consensus and rights approaches in good faith encounters. There is also the assistance of a third party through Conciliation/Mediation, and finally, in the event of failure of the earlier processes, arbitration or a national commission review with recommendations to the National Assembly which provides the funds.

Samuel J Goolsarran