The Contract Negotiation Process in Labour Relations

The contract negotiation process is central to collective bargaining as it is the process through which collective agreements are concluded. Labour relations (industrial relations) negotiations between management or management organizations and unions are often detailed and highly complex in nature.

Factors Affecting Management-Union Contract Negotiations

These negotiations differ from the more conventional commercial negotiations in a number of ways:

  • Labour relations or management-union negotiations, commonly addresses a far broader range of issues than do most commercial negotiations. These issues are also more complex in nature than those found in commercial negotiations. In labour relations negotiations the broad list of issues covered can include wages, hours of work, vacation time off, job security, various benefits, work related issues, promotion, transfers, the different occupational health and safety issues, the individual rights and responsibilities of the unions and of management, and changes to existing agreements or policies etc. Negotiating these issues can take weeks if not months to reach an agreement, whereas in commercial negotiations the time frame commonly varies from a few hours to a few days.
  • Union-management negotiations are strictly regulated by statutory requirements. Each side has to ensure, while negotiating, that they are complying with their statutory duties. These regulations can have an effect on the collective bargaining process. Also, certain legislation such as the various dispute resolution processes imposed by industrial relations legislation can slow down or even restrict negotiations.
  • Union-management negotiations are representative negotiations in that both negotiating teams are expect to emerge with a settlement that is acceptable to their often diverse constituencies, each with their own conflicting interests.
  • Union-management negotiations have to take into consideration their long-term relationship and how their past working relationship can affect their current negotiating session and influence a settlement that can build or maintain their ongoing working relationship. If their past relationship was troublesome then there may be some issues that would need to be addressed first before they can go on to negotiate constructively the current issues.

These four factors briefly explains some of the more complex issues that makes the contract negotiation process so much more complex and time consuming than conventional commercial negotiations.