Striking a balance – The importance of maintaining trust during pay disputes

The significant increase in industrial action within the food and beverage industry regarding disputes over pay seems to be showing no signs of slowing down.

In recent weeks, we have seen several examples of union members either voting on, or proceeding with, industrial action. Such action is commonly taken on the basis that staff have been offered a pay increase that is not in line with inflation.

Whilst industrial action may in some cases be inevitable (particularly in the current climate), employees will often vote for it due to a loss of confidence that their employer is giving them the best deal within the resources available.

Employers should be mindful of the importance of transparency in negotiations from the outset (so far as compatible with their commercial interests) in order to mitigate the risk of industrial action.

There are some simple steps that employers can take in pay negotiations which might help to avoid industrial action:

  • Providing a full and true explanation as to the reasons behind any offer and the financial impact (if any) on the business if a higher award is made is a fundamental first step that could encourage employees to be more flexible in their expectations.
  • Countering quickly any inaccurate information and providing a factual account of events to ensure that workers have reliable information on which to make a decision.
  • Considering the impact of making a best and final offer from the outset. Sometimes trust can be lost when an offer is made but is then increased later. Employees will be wondering why the enhanced offer was not made from the outset or if there is more money in the pot.
  • Reviewing how communications are being managed – employers should ensure that employees feel comfortable raising queries or concerns and that there is a clear process for employees to raise those matters and for the employer to feed back collectively with responses. This is most commonly done through a live FAQ document. Agreeing a process for joint communication with Trade Unions can demonstrate an intention to be collaborative, whilst ensuring that the employees are hearing the same message.
  • Getting ahead of the game – review your Recognition Agreement now to ensure that it is fit for purpose and includes appropriate provisions relating to communication and conciliation in the event of a dispute.  

Mills & Reeve is well placed to advise you on any concerns around threatened or upcoming industrial action and to review your current Recognition Agreement. Our team is experienced and can provide pragmatic and commercial advice. Please do get in touch if we can support you.

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Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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