How the Collective Agreement Bargaining Process Works

In the collective agreement bargaining process the term "collective bargaining" coined by Beatrice Webb, refers to a complex process in the employment environment, whereby the representatives of the employers (employer associations) negotiate an agreement with the representatives of the workers (unions), on certain terms and conditions of employment.

This form of workplace bargaining was developed as a substitute for employers having to negotiate singly with each of their employees. However, the collective bargaining process does not replace the individual employment contract as the terms, agreed upon through the negotiations, are incorporated into each employee's employment contract.

Maintaining the Collective Agreement

Once the collective agreement has been signed, the next stage in the bargaining process is the application of the agreement. This application is a continuous process involving maintenance, interpretation and regulation of the terms of the agreement on a day-to-day basis.

Although the collective bargaining process sets out the rules which would govern the relationship between employers and their employees, the process does not cover all rule-making. There are still some rules that are made 'unilaterally' by management (management's rights), or the workers. Those rules which have been derived through bargaining, have been made either 'bilaterally' (involving employers and unions), or 'trilaterally' (tripartite) involving the employers, unions (workers), and government regulators.

Collective Bargaining Levels 

Bargaining can occur at different levels such as:

a.) Industry-wide bargaining where a whole industry may be covered by the collective agreement. This industry-wide bargaining can occur at various levels such as at national level, regional level, or local level.

b.) Enterprise-level bargaining where, in any given organization, bargaining may take place at either plant level or at divisional level.

  • In large national organizations bargaining usually occur at national levels, or at regional levels.
  • In federal jurisdictions, bargaining would occur at the national level.
  • In provincial public sectors, bargaining occurs at the (i.e. provincial) level.

Collective Bargaining Units

A collective bargaining unit is the group or group of employees covered by the collective agreement.

More than one bargaining unit can be covered under a collective agreement with different clauses relating to the unique characteristics of each of the bargaining units.

A collective bargaining unit could also consist of either members of a single union, or it could consist of multiple unions. Where there are multiple unions represented in a single bargaining unit, there is always the potential for conflict among the unions, who are constantly in competition for members. Where such conflicts do occur, they often result in complex administrative problems for management.

Bargaining Agents

The bargaining agent is the person or party that negotiates on behalf of a bargaining unit.

  • On some occasions management may have to bargain with more than one bargaining agent simultaneously on issues common to all bargaining units, in what is referred to as 'single-table' bargaining (or single-table negotiating). The benefit of single-table bargaining is that it reduces bargaining time and can prevent the leapfrogging of demands.
  • On other occasions, where a bargaining agent represents a wide variety of staff with a wide range of interests, management may best be served by splitting the bargaining into: 
  • single-table bargaining for issues that are common to all units such as grievance and disciplinary procedures, and
  • functional bargaining (functional negotiating) on separate issues for each unit, such as negotiating pay and working conditions for each group.

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