Sensitivity Bargaining — An Alternative to Conflict

Publication Date01 Feb 1975
AuthorIan G. Smith
Sensitivity Bargaining -
An Alternative to Conflict
Ian G Smith
Lecturer in
Dept. of Industrial Relations and
Studies, University
The British industrial relations system has, on the whole,
tended to serve the country well, but it has failed to adapt
to new conditions in the postwar period and has faltered.
More importantly the study of industrial relations has
provided a great deal of analysis and a minimum of
synthesis of new ideas. The lack of change and adaptation
in collective bargaining has increasingly resulted in the
failure of the system to cope effectively with the ever
changing, and increasingly complex, social, technical and
economic forces in our society. Thus collective bargaining
has too often been seen to fail in the achievement of
orderly settlements to claims, grievances and disputes. One
result has been legislation in the shape of the Industrial
Relations Act which merely served to inflame collective
bargaining. After working for several years in Canada, in the
field of labour relations, it is this writer's contention that
industrial relations legislation is an unsuitable substitute for
management and union jointly solving their problems in an
open yet business-like atmosphere. Legislation is too
prickly for the sensitive ears around a bargaining table, and
in the last analysis management and unions will do their
utmost to avoid any chance of entanglement in the legal
After so many years of development and effective working,
it will be unfortunate if the freedom of collective bargain-
ing is ended by the dead hand of third party intervention,
no matter what form that intervention may take. To ensure
survival the system must itself generate change and must
adapt, learn and improve. As an attempt to provide some
initial thinking on possible improvements this article
presents a method of decreasing the causes of disputes.
Sensitivity Bargaining
The Reasons, and an Outline
During the twelve months of 1973 over a million workers
were involved in 2,854 stoppages of work. Of these stop-
448 were caused by wage disputes and
406 were
caused by non-monetary issues[l]. Such a breakdown of
stoppages of work by cause for any period will reveal a
similar picture. For example, in November 1972 out of a
total of 181 work stoppages beginning in that month, 92
were caused by wage disputes and 89 were caused by
non-monetary disputes[2].
Obviously a considerable number of strikes occur because
of managements and unions disagreeing on a range of issues
much wider than that covered by the term 'wage rates,
earnings levels and fringe benefits'. Furthermore many wage
disputes are not purely monetary in that they do not centre
on the issue of 'how much' should be paid. When it is
realized that many wage disputes are caused, not by the
amount of money involved, but by the procedures involved
in determining how it is to be paid
such as bonus rates,
overtime rates and allocation, and shift differentials
the importance of purely monetary issues as a cause of
strikes diminishes and the importance of non-monetary
issues is seen in sharper focus. In an inflationary environ-
ment it is often difficult enough for management and union
to find an acceptable monetary compromise in the process
of collective bargaining; non-monetary issues merely add to
the obstacles standing in the paths of the two parties as
they search for a settlement. More often than not these
non-monetary issues can be described as 'issues of rights'.
The list below provides examples of non-monetary issues,
or issues of rights:
Technological change
New work procedures
Management rights
Information disclosure
Union recognition and
Wage and job
Financial incentive schemes
Job evaluation
Design of bonus schemes
Grievance procedures
Union meetings
Union discipline
Leave of absence
Tea breaks
Washing up time
Size of manning teams
Overtime rates
Allocation of craftsmen's
Contract labour
Protracted negotiations
Union ballots
These issues are capable of causing disputes because there
may be confusion among management and unions on the
subject of the extent of each party's interest. Obviously the
list is not exhaustive, but it presents examples of the
non-monetary issues which are often put into the melting

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