Employers often find negotiating an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) daunting. Many workplaces across Australia have EBAs. They are one of the staple instruments for defining employment terms and conditions.

An EBA usually comes from trade union pressure to formalise the relationship between an employer and the employees. A goal is to ensure 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, all employers and employees have to sit down together and negotiate a new EBA. Union delegates often represent the employees.

Employers renegotiate an EBA only once every four years. But union delegates often negotiate many EBAs each year.

As the employer, you are responsible for signing off on an EBA that is sustainable for the business. So, what can you do to help the negotiations run as smoothly as possible?

Set your negotiation outcomes

Before starting negotiations, top management must decide what outcome they want. And what the bottom line is. The people in the negotiation are the frontline. Consistent messages from the Board or CEO support them.

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

Set realistic expectations

You need a receptive audience. As an employer, you both can and should communicate well with your employees. You are uniquely placed to let them know 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. Talk to your employees, using appropriate language, about some business basics on the real cost of what the business does. Employees don’t think about overheads like insurance, tax, office support, plant and equipment.

Listen to your employees

Find out what employees really want, and what they think is realistic. Conversations with individual and groups give good insight on what they actually want. Rather than what someone else might tell you you the workforce wants.

Research the market

Performing some data analysis on your competitors is very valuable. Remember, EBAs 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. It keeps it real. Because it is easy to lose touch.

Create a communication plan

Create a plan that is logical and covers everyone. Make sure you meet with your leadership team to maintain the united front, as well as employees. Everyone should be receiving the same message about the negotiation. That message should come ‘straight from the horse’s mouth.

Put forward your own log of claims

Go through your current EBA. Highlight everything that is problematic for the business. Whether that’s in terms of cost or the ability of 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’s claims, work out the costs increase or savings. How will that impact on the business?

Work out 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. This ensures that the business is not put at risk. Yet, 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.

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