Leave the power plays to cricket

Written by Denise Evans

Qantas being ordered by the Employment Relations Authority to pay its employees $6,000.00 highlights the importance for employers to enter into discussions with employees and to reach an agreement before there is any attempt to change conditions which affect the employees.

It appears that Qantas reached an agreement with its employees to change a roster arrangement on the basis that the new arrangement would benefit employees. The trouble started when Qantas changed its mind and tried to revert to the previous roster system without agreement. The failure by Qantas to attempt to resolve the dispute through mediation appears to have been an aggravating factor.

This story is a reminder to employers of the importance of “working with” employees to effect changes. Whilst the New Zealand employment law supports the right of an owner to decide the employment requirements of its own business which is known as the “management prerogative”, the law is also based on notions of “fairness” and “good faith”. The Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA) says it aims “to build productive employment relationships through the promotion of good faith in all aspects of the employment environment and of the employment relationship” and refers to “the implied mutual obligations of trust and confidence”.

The Qantas case is a strong reminder for employers that they need to understand both “management prerogative”, as well as “fairness and good faith”. This isn’t about just following your HR policy. A good employer encourages consultation and collaboration, and they can recognise the need for outside support sometimes.

Often one of the most difficult things to do is to start a conversation with employees particularly when it is likely the employees will be concerned about the possible ramifications of a proposed change to their job security or to their terms and conditions. The worst situation is where the employer is worried about the business and needs to make some changes, and is too afraid to start the conversation at all.

At FairWay, we help employers and employees have difficult conversations. This is done on the basis that both parties agree to attend a meeting which is facilitated by an experienced dispute resolution practitioner who assists the parties to clarify the issues to be discussed and identify the needs of both sides to the conversation. The next step is to create an environment where parties can collaboratively problem solve to address the issues having regard to maximising the number of needs for both sides which can be met through a planned approach to reaching agreement.

Renowned international mediator and dialogue facilitator Ken Cloke[1]has written extensively on the benefits of collaborative problem solving. In doing so he distinguishes the various forms of power. Importantly he highlights the danger in allowing people to use “power” as a means of resolving disputes. He says that such use of power is addictive and corrupting to those who use it and are protected by it. In employment matters both sides can be guilty of using "power” to resolve disputes. Employees who refuse to engage in discussion about change are equally exercising power. It is useful to understand that most “power plays” and aggressive behaviour has its foundation in fear.

A skilled Dispute Resolution Professional can assist both the employer and employee to understand that they each have power and more importantly that the power is the power to do something with the other party.

The Employment Relations Act's aim to build productive employment relationships can be met when employers and employees commit to a collaborative problem-solving model and leave the power play to games such as cricket.

For more information

For more information on mediation and FairWay’s workplace services visit www.FairWayResolution.com, call 0800 77 44 08 or email the team at civildr@fairwayresolution.com


[1] For more information about Ken Cloke please see https://www.kencloke.com