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Industrial Action Risks & Strategies - The Duke of York Effect

If negotiations are failing to the extent that a ballot of union membership has concluded with a mandate to take industrial action, then contingency planning is essential for both protagonists. The reality is both stakeholders for whatever reason have been marched to the top of the hill and getting them back down and shoring up credibility is essential.

The impact of union membership numbers on contingency strategies

The density of union membership can be important as high levels of membership will have an impact. Mapping of membership in key areas of operations is crucial and should always be in place in any organisation. Keeping services alive may depend on where you focus any short-term contingency strategy. Re training or giving supplementary training to non-unionised members could be crucial (e.g Line Managers, supervisors etc). In a dynamic union organised setting, do not wait for a breakdown in relations to do the training. 

Target the crucial areas you need to maintain when planning crossover training

From the Unions perspective if density is low or sporadic then focus should be targeted on areas where impact will be more effective. (For example I.T. specific areas of the call centre or distribution). Regular monitoring should take note of surges in union organising and recruitment.

There is a leverage to be gained from both sides if training and organising can be made to look influential at an early stage

A risk analysis of media impact needs to be considered and managed. If there is no public relations department then consider taking on an outside agency to cover media and to train in handling the media. Senior union officials will or should have had this training.

Make sure as a negotiator your mandate to manage and move away from this crisis is clear and understood well before this level of conflict occurs.

Have a contingency plan in place to manage the eventual outcome of conflict driven negotiations. The outcome can lead to a toxic atmosphere that could last a very long time.

Finally do everything you can to keep an open line of communication with the other sides negotiating team and make sure you have the right personalities to do it, if at all possible.

Author: David Fleming, Employee Relations Specialist

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