Paul Howes Got Something Right?

By Fred Bolling*

Paul Howes got something right, although like many of you I am rather ungraciously questioning his motivation (Yes, Minister). It is clear that the current industrial relations system is not working in the way that our country needs it to. Whilst many employees and their union representatives have benefited from Australia’s long history of strong economic growth, there are at least three things that concern me.

  1. Only a few industries and only some groups of employees within those industries appear to have truly benefited through a “sharing of prosperity” enabled by some rather single minded Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) negotiations. When I talk with employees (and employers) in the majority of industries that are more delicately placed, there is rampant FOHMO (fear of having missed out....apologies).

  2. Even employees that have benefited are now starting to see that their position is not sustainable, as job losses are being flagged or have even began (and “the system” does not appear to have the flexibility to prevent this – just think Toyota).

  3. Employers are feeling increasingly impotent and frustrated about their ability to negotiate EBA outcomes that provide genuine mutual benefit, including:

         - sustainable terms and conditions for employees, and
         - genuine productivity enhancement and real workplace flexibility for employers. 

There is never the ending log of demands, the internal union politics, the negotiation posturing, the increasing list of “off the tables”, the artificially created productivity tradeoffs, the disenfranchising of majority employees and so on.

Yes, there are well run unions and there are employers that don’t deserve anything better, but the vast majority of employers are just trying to run a business to benefit all stakeholders, including their employees. 

So what is the solution? 

Back to the Future? A new Accord? – I doubt it.

Rebalancing the legislation - definitely.

Building a new culture (aka Paul Howes) - absolutely.

But, all this takes leadership and time! What can you do now, today?

Employers need to take the lead and engage directly with their employees (and their representatives as appropriate). Talk plainly about the current position of the business, the challenges, the opportunities and what the business needs to survive and to prosper.

Ask for their ideas and co-operation and commitment in building a stronger more secure business.

Enter into genuine EBA negotiations with your employees and their representatives with a view to a sustainable and mutually beneficial outcome. Motherhood, not so! 

A successful EBA outcome requires early planning, transparency and communication with all stakeholders especially your employees and their representatives, well ahead of the expiry of your current EBA.

You need to develop an intimate understanding of why you are negotiating an EBA beyond “good faith bargaining”. You need to rebuild the knowledge, preparation, planning and negotiating skills of your negotiating team, no matter how seasoned they are.

It is not about games, it fact it is about principled negotiating by all parties.

*Fred Bolling has been working in the IR negotiating area for almost 40 years across automotive, construction, manufacturing, coal mining and retail (food service) industries in Australia and overseas. Fred partners with Steve Champion, Managing Director and Owner of ER Strategies Pty Ltd, on bringing you an outstanding two day “Advanced EBA Negotiating Skills & Planning” Masterclass”. Fred and Steve also offer an in-house shorter, sharper, company specific learning and development platform for the upcoming EBA negotiations and they are hands on as required.  See for details.


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