“A look at the collective bargaining process and challenges for the future –to strike or not to strike”

In 2012 the International Trade Union Confederation did a survey which raised the following concerns in its report:

While employers in Guatemala “do not respect the right of workers to freedom of association, collective bargaining and decent work,” workers should not look to their own government for vindication of their rights: “[t]he Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, far from fostering labor rights, is the obedient servant of the national and transnational employers.” This situation in Guatemala in some measure is a creeping threat in our own back yards in the Caribbean region.

Collective bargaining is the most effective tool which remains for trade unions to lobby and legitimize conditions that benefit employees. This is a right enjoyed for almost a century and one that trade unions must defend. 

Since the 1930s workers have enjoyed the right to negotiate conditions of work through the collective bargaining process. This is the process that leads to the Collective Agreement. This agreement established work conditions dealing with hours of work, wages, allowances, and other benefits for the employee. It is erosion of this very process that has allowed ill equipped, poorly organized representative bodies to be at the mercy of well-resourced powerful employers and governments, resulting in less and less benefits for employees. When Unions blindly trust the process without thoughtful consideration, the results are detrimental for them and their members.

This collective bargaining process is built on ‘good faith’, an expectation of trust and mutual respect by both the employer and employee. 

When employers and more so Governments offer their employees no wage increases, no added benefits while at the same time choosing not to be prudent with state resources, the negotiation process is frustrated. When Employers deny their workers fair working conditions but at the same time celebrate huge profit margins it becomes impossible to negotiate in good faith. When Governments go to their parliaments and approve increases in salaries and allowances for themselves, Workers and Unions are suspicious and are unable to accept a wage freeze or cuts. 

Workers have a right to demand better either through negotiation or any through other reasonable, constitutionally protected means.

While the collective bargaining process is not always effective, employees must understand the importance of solidarity, unity and collective action. When negotiating parties exhibit maturity and follow established laws and principles collective bargaining becomes useful and critically important for addressing employees’ and employers’ concerns. The loss of this right equates a declaration of termination on the labour movement and its effectiveness. It is this process that places high emphasis on dialogue and offers a departure from the more confrontational modality. 

Collective bargaining may have lessened the need for affirmative action but it has not eliminated the need to use the ultimate ammunition of “Strike action!” when ‘negotiation fails. Unions may have to adopt a tier system which begins at negotiation but as the process unfolds and all else fails, the process ascends into active actions of solidarity which yield just results for employees. A strike can be a reasonable and viable action or response.

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