Enterprise Bargaining Agreements are the one of the staple instruments for defining the terms and conditions of many workplaces across Australia.

More often than not, an EBA is a result of Trade Union pressure to formalise the relationship between an employer and the employees, ensuring that the terms and conditions are the same for everyone.

An EBA can be in place for no more than four years, so at some point in time, all employers and employees are going to have to sit down together and go through a negotiation of a new EBA.

Negotiating an EBA can often be a daunting task for employers.  The employer only has to go through this process maybe once every four years, but Union Delegates are often negotiating many EBA’s every single year.

So, given that the employer is the one that has the responsibility to sign off on an EBA that is sustainable to the business, what can you do to help the process run as smoothly as possible?

It comes from the top

Before any negotiation commence, the people in charge have to make a clear decision on what they want the outcome to be, and what the bottom line is.  The people in the negotiation are the ones that do the negotiation, but there has to be a consistent message from the Board or CEO.

Be clear from the start to build credibility.  If you change your mind on the strategy through the process, you will lose trust, and it is very hard to conduct a negotiation when you are making it easy for people not to trust you.

Build a burning platform

You need a receptive audience.  As an employer you have both the ability and responsibility to have high levels of communication with your employees, and to provide them with information on what the business needs to be profitable and keep people in jobs.  A lot of employees think that businesses have a bucket of cash that never runs out.  In appropriate terms, talk to your employees about some business basics on the real cost of what the business does.  Insurance, company/payroll tax, office support, plant and equipment are all examples of overheads that are sometimes forgotten by employees.

Find out what employees really want, and what they think is realistic.  Individual and group conversations can give good anecdotal evidence on what the workforce really wants, rather than what someone else tells you they want.

Research the market

Performing some data analysis on your competitors is very valuable.  Remember, EBA’s are public documents and can be accessed online.

Talk to your network

Have you got contacts that deal with the same union or are in a similar industry?  What are their experiences?

Talk to your employees

Talking every day is vital, and not just before or during a negotiation.  Constant communication keeps your finger on the pulse of what is really happening and keeps it real.  It is easy to lose touch.

Create a communication plan

Create a plan that is logical and covers everyone.  Ensure that you are meeting with your leadership team to maintain the united front, as well as employees.  Everyone should be receiving the same message regarding the negotiation, and it should come ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’.

Put forward your own log of claims

Go through your current EBA and highlight everything that is problematic for the business in terms of cost and the ability for the business to make independent decisions.  Is there anything that you need or would like to change?

Work out your best and most realistic outcome, and what you hope to achieve.

Crunch the numbers

With all claims, both the business and the union claims, work out the costs increase or savings.  How will that impact on the business?

Work out what is the best alternative to negotiating an agreement (BATNA)

Remember, as the Rolling Stones said, “you don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need” What is the best alternative to getting what you want?

Put plans in place to mitigate risk to the business if negotiations are problematic

Employers put a lot of effort in to reviewing the terms of contracts with their customers, ensuring the business is not put at risk.  However, they will often agree to an EBA without considering that they may be stuck with that term forever.  Once it is in an EBA, it is hard to get it out.

It takes as long as it takes

There is no advantage to trying to get an agreement signed off at the expense of having terms that you can’t afford.  Be patient, stick to your strategy and what you want to achieve.  It is in the long-term interests of the company.

If you have any questions about EBA negotiations give HR Gurus a call today.

Written by resident HR Guru Danielle Turner.

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