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Why Introduce Internal Mediation Services Into Unionised Organisations?

From the CMP Resolution Blog of John Crawley, Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.

In fact, the question is, ‘Why not?’

Last year BIS (formerly BERR), the TUC and CBI issued a joint publication examining the role of modern union representatives and presenting examples of a wider remit than the role is traditionally associated with.[1] It identified specialist roles going beyond the Shop Steward / Branch Officer type function to Learning Reps, and reps focussing on Health and Safety, Environmental issues and Equality and Diversity. The rationale behind these specialisms is to define a role which not only supports individuals in problems they may be experiencing at work but has an aspect of change management to it and helps

“…to articulate the views and ideas of the workforce to improve working practices and workplace performance”

One step further than this, the case studies given demonstrate the benefits of

“…employers and trade unions work(ing) efficiently and constructively together (to) improve workplace performance for the mutual benefit of the employer and the employee.”

The latest TUC Biennial Survey of Safety Reps released in October 2010 reported that the 2nd most frequently cited main hazard in 2010 was bullying and harassment. Read the full report.

CMP are experts in reducing bullying and harassment and strengthening dignity and respect at work through training and our professional investigation service.

Mediation is another tool to be added to the kit that can help both Union Reps and HR staff alike to achieve these broader aims, as well as address specific disputes with speed, effectiveness and at low cost.

For conflicts that come up between individuals, mediation is an option that offers more an alternative to what often becomes an inevitable, intractable cycle of grievance and counter grievance. In so many cases, the opportunity for a protected, informal dialogue at an early stage can clear up misunderstandings and prevent the need for further action. Approaching conflict in this way stands more chance of getting to the real issues and underlying needs experienced by the parties, than a high level crisis intervention that can issue a judgement, but which fails to address the working relationship. Enlightened Union Reps that I have worked with have encouraged those they are representing to see mediation as this kind of opportunity – and to great effect.

But more than that, mediation is about change. Certainly for the individuals involved but potentially for the whole organisation. This is a process that gives people a voice. To say it is confidential does not discount the possibility of mutually agreed feedback to the organisation, which can bring valuable learning.

Broader even than that is the contribution that mediation can make to cultural change within an organisation. Dealing with disputes in this way gives a message that difference is OK and that it can be respected and managed. As such it endorses many of the broader functions of the union rep such as supporting learning, promoting equality and diversity and so on. In an environment in which conflicts are openly addressed, the opportunities for collaboration grow and can be used to great advantage. Some of the most effective mediation training I have been involved in has included HR staff and Union reps learning about conflict together and agreeing the most constructive ways to approach disputes. As always, conflict is inevitable – it is how it is handled that is the key. Why wouldn’t a unionised organisation want to use mediation as a primary means of resolving disputes?

[1] “REPS IN ACTION – how workplaces can gain from modern representation”,


Lesley Allport

Lesley Allport is CMP Resolutions’ Head of Mediation and joined us in 2007. Her role includes supervising our team of practitioners; delivering dispute resolution services and training: developing best practice; and developing advanced mediation practice and mediation supervision programmes. She has worked in the field of mediation as a mediator,… MORE >

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