Mediation in collective bargaining
Mediators can become involved at any stage of the collective bargaining process. If the parties are having difficulty reaching agreement and think that mediation might help, either party can seek early assistance from a mediator or a mediation meeting. Often both parties will agree that mediation is necessary; however, it is always best to first discuss with the other party what they would like to achieve in mediation.
The Employment Relations Act requires that the parties who are entering into a collective bargaining process first reach an agreement about the process they will use for conducting the bargaining in an effective and efficient manner. This is called a bargaining process agreement. For guidance on what a bargaining process agreement should contain see the Code of Good Faith.
If at any point in the bargaining process the parties reach impasse they can seek the assistance of a mediator. The mediator will assist them to overcome the impasse and then will leave the parties to continue bargaining.
The confidentiality obligations that normally apply to mediation do not apply to collective bargaining. This is because in collective bargaining the parties have to report on progress and consider options with those they represent, such as union members or company board members. How this information is to be shared and how information is given to the media is something that the parties should agree as part of the Bargaining Process Agreement. There are times when the parties will want to agree that the progress of the discussions is to be kept confidential. Reaching an agreement on what will be reported publicly or on maintaining confidentiality sometimes helps things along, particularly if a range of options is being discussed.
Mediators may record agreements reached but the parties remain responsible for keeping track of changes to the collective agreement as they would throughout the bargaining process.
When parties have reached agreement in the negotiations, the whole new agreement must go to the union members for ratification. A ratification process may also be required for the employer, for instance, where a board must sign off an agreement. After ratification a copy of the agreement must be sent to the Chief Executive at the Department of Labour.
The Department of Labour has prepared an online resource. This is a tool with information and guidance to assist both parties work through all collective bargaining processes.