By: Sconi Bright
Labour – management cooperation serves as a pillar upon which industrial harmony is enhanced and strengthened, and this will translate into a quality conversation and once there is a quality conversation, then a quality relationship will magnetize the organizational environment with the end product of being increased in productivity.
Again, labour- management unrest in the form of strikes, picketing, lock-outs, negotiations between union Executives and management, and lay-offs etc. are toxins that affect the growth of the organization with its intended negative outcomes. With the enactment of the Labour Law Act 651, 2003, one would have expected that, labour –management unrest would have been a thing of the past or reduced to the barest minimum, because the labour law holds the answers and solutions to many labour –management related issues which have been spelt out in the Act, yet they are not able to resolve their differences under this finest Act for the reasons best known to the parties to the industrial conflict.
More so, the Act has detailed the procedures that must be followed in resolving labour- management disputes so that, labour –management cooperation would be solidified in a way of averting strikes and demonstrations which impede productivity. One of the sensitive labour – management issues which not handled well could spark agitations in the labour front is negotiations for terms and conditions of employment enshrined in the Collective Agreement. The Act 651 has clearly stated that parties are duty bound to negotiate in good faith in section 97(1), (2) and (3) and section 153. This means that all parties to the negotiation of a collective agreement shall make a point to negotiate in good faith and also make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement.
Also to negotiate in good faith then, parties involved in the negotiations must share available relevant information to the subject to be negotiated to the other party to facilitate a successful negotiation. The phrase ‘duty to negotiate in good faith has been materialized because there is no trust relationship among the parties to the negotiations. Therefore, management fears that information shared would spark unmanageable demands from labour union executives. The reverse is the case.
More importantly, parties to industrial disputes adopt an adversarial approach to negotiations of the collective agreement which does not yield the desired resolution of labour related issues. This is marked by parties taken entrenched positions in their demands instead of seeking mutual interest; parties attack personalities rather than the issues under negotiations. Again, instead of seeking a mutual resolution which is win-win, it ends up in a win-lose game. The parties to the industrial dispute approach negotiations as “a master-servant relationship” rather than mutual gains. This development makes parties operate in the Red Zone which is characterized by fight, flight and freeze with its devastating effects on productivity, waste of time and a financial cost to the organization.
The PULSE Frame can resource and equip parties to industrial dispute especially Union executives and Management on how the PULSE frame can help them to understand the workings of the Act 651 especially in the area of the negotiations. This is because PULSE frame comes with a new mindset moving from an adversarial type of negotiation to an interest-based negotiation. The PULSE Frame moves parties to the industrial dispute from the Red Zone to the Green Zone characterized by release, relax and relate. The Frame has been structured into five stages that is Prepare, Uncover, Learn, Search and Explain that is why the frame is unique and cannot fail when applied. The PULSE operates in two folds that is the pre-meeting and the actual meeting or mediation.
In the pre-meeting, the impartial mediator creates the necessary rapport for a smooth take-off of the negotiations and to trust the mediator or impartial facilitator. The mediator outlines the protocol that guides the conversation, and it is known as the GHOST Principles (gentle, honest, open, specific and talk). Parties are encouraged to speak to each other and find a gentle way to share what they are thinking, to be honest with their emotions, parties are urged to be open to hearing what the other party is saying. Parties are asked to use specific examples for clarification and parties must keep talking until a balance, mutually agreeable resolution can be reached.
Again, at the Prepare stage, the mediator leading the process outlines the rules of engagement as prescribed by the Act 651 in section 101(2) and 103(4) and the rules are;
- Do not walk away; that is parties must control their distancing reflex
- Do not power play; parties must control their coercion reflex
- Take a risk; offer conciliatory gestures
- Do not exploit others’ risk; that acknowledges their conciliatory gestures
- Do not freeze; keep the conversation on track.
These rules are meant to sanitize the conversation and keep it focused.
At the Uncover stage, parties to the dispute answer the question of what the parties are there to resolve today? And the mediator manages to name a familiar story briefly and impartially and ask them to confirm whether it is the circumstance that parties are there to resolve.
At the Learn stage, the parties speak directly to each other about why the circumstance is important to them, and the impartial mediator records these unique and common criteria which meet both parties interest. Parties come to the negotiating table with their BEACHs (beliefs, expectations, assumptions, concerns). Union executives may be on BEACH one while Management on BEACH two which are incompatible, but the PULSE frame can manage them to come into a common BEACH which mutually benefits the parties.
At the Search stage, once the criteria are set, the parties to the negotiations search for options and they do this through brainstorming to generate options against the criteria with parties deciding which ones are feasible and doable and which are within their authority. The impartial mediator does not suggest solutions to the parties but rather acts as a secretary and records all the options generated to satisfy the common Beach reached.
The last stage of the Frame is to Explain, once the options have been generated, the parties sit together with the impartial mediator who acts as secretary to explain in writing a plan of action which is feasible to guide the future of the party’s relationship. Here again, the mediator uses the parties own words to write the plan of action. The plan of action is reviewed and commitment to the ideas in the plan of action which is checked and doubled checked to ensure that it is well understood and sustainable.
The adversarial negotiations make parties aggressive to each other and drag the negotiations for several months without reaching a resolution and this affect productivity. With PULSE, negotiations could be done within 90 minutes with a win-win resolution satisfactory to both parties. This is because the pre-meeting adequately prepares the parties for the actual negotiations.
Again, the PULSE frame is based on the premise that parties are capable of resolving their problems or differences and it holds parties accountable for their past, present and the future. The frame does not dwell on the past emotions but rather looks at what has worked in the past circumstances and tries to incorporate it into the present so that the future can be different.
It is an undeniable fact that, for the corporate world, human resource managers and union leaders to be able to understand and apply the Act 651 in their negotiations and other labour related issues then; there is the need for them to be equipped with the knowledge of the workings of the PULSE frame. Its efficacy of resolving differences cannot be overemphasized. PULSE is the heartbeat of communication because it leads to quality communication.
- The Ghana Labour Law (Act 651, 2003)
- Austin Gamey (Gamey and Gamey Group)
- Nancy Love (2008) PULSE Institute