Better EU negotiations – lessons from Trade Union disputes

Always go into a negotiation knowing your “BATNA” is sound advice from William Ury of Harvard Law School. Your BATNA is your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. It applies well to all negotiations including those with Trade Unions.

When I was a “rookie” industrial relations officer, industrial strikes were commonplace. Sometimes the best alternative was indeed “a strike” – accepting its inevitability was a means of drawing a line. Forcing an agreement (in theory starving workers into submission by pre-longing a strike) would be another alternative. However, broadly speaking these were not good alternatives. A negotiated agreement was far better than the disruption and costs of a workforce walkout and certainly better than all the bitterness of a forced settlement. That would be bitterness with a workforce which, once back at work, you would want to produce profit for you.

The key, if there is one, is to identify and listen to the other’s arguments. Seek first to understand (Stephen Covey), then to be understood. I often quote the 2 sisters fighting over an orange who eventually discovered one sister wanted to bake a cake (using the peel) and the other sister to make a drink (from the juice). Sometimes both interests can be served and that can happen in industrial disputes too.

So what are the prospects from Europe? Well there are two BATNAs. The first is no deal – it is hardly a good alternative and those on the other side of the negotiating table will know that. The other is to “remain” after all, and those on our side of the negotiating table know that isn’t a realistic option either, at least not without risking major social unrest. Broadly speaking these are not good alternatives. Indeed only one can be “best”.

Interests will have to be identified and understood.

And if you need to negotiate with a Trade Union? For example, over a change in terms and conditions, contact us. Employer Solutions can meet the challenge of negotiations, though not negotiations over Europe.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

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