Updated for 2021!
AGGGGHHHH not enterprise bargaining in the public service. Those of us who were part of the last bargaining round cannot believe it’s almost been three years. I know some departments have yet to finalise their agreements but for others, it’s time to do it all again. I know agencies are starting to form their bargaining committees, and communications teams will soon be under pressure to create engaging (otherwise known as yes vote generating) communications strategies.
This is a really tricky time for communications professionals in government. While trying to create an engaging communications campaign to explain a complex process, you are also a staff member impacted by the negotiation process. For some out there this will be the time you need to put on your professional pants and communicate something you don’t necessarily believe in.
This is a significant internal communications challenge. Engaging employees directly is extremely important to ensure they have the information about the process and further down the track the organisation’s offer. Many of you will be communicating to a large, diverse, dispersed workforce. Many of you will have staff that are active union members and some staff that have no interest at all. You are working in a tough bargaining environment under stringent provisions created by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
Having a clear communication strategy will help gain employees’ trust during bargaining negotiations. This strategy should cover each step in the process, from the initiation of bargaining through to the approval of the agreement. There are legal and Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) requirements about what, when and how you communicate to staff. Make sure you know what they are from the outset, so you don’t delay the bargaining process. Don’t just rely on your bargaining representative, you need to know the rules yourself.
Regardless of the complexities, the basics remain the same. You need to understand your audience – know how your staff want to be communicated to and what channels are effective in your department. Scan your operating environment, you need to know what you will be up against during your campaign. Be willing to be agile – based on feedback from staff and progress during negotiations be willing to change your approach.
Do’s and don’ts of enterprise bargaining
To help get you started here are some do’s and don’ts of enterprise bargaining.
Aim to grab attention through what may be a long process.
|Distribute misleading or deceptive materials
Someone will find out and call you out creating a bigger problem
|Use a range of channels
Face-to-face, digital engagement, Executive presentations, forums, small group workshops, posters, flyers. The list is endless, try them all.
|Be rude or argumentative
Don’t rubbish the union or staff representatives position in staff communications. It will diminish trust and start a war of words.
|Prepare for media attention
Have your public position on bargaining ready to go. Expect that anything you put out to staff will be sent directly to the Canberra Times.
While this is a legal and policy minefield you are still communicating to people so don’t use legal jargon when communicating with employees. Be correct but not technical.
|Keep staff informed
Even if you feel there is nothing to say keeping staff up to date with the process and the next steps is vital to ensure you can’t be accused of hiding anything.
|Be aggressive in your approach to staff
Undertake your campaign in the way you would want to receive information (remember you are a staff member too). Don’t make staff run the entry gauntlet twice when they enter the building (the union will be right outside the door) or bombard them with EA spam.
|Keep good records
Keep track of what you put out to staff and when. You never know when you will be asked to prove you met your obligations.
|Lose sight of your internal culture
If your behaviour during the negotiation process is in opposition to the culture you are trying to build you will create long-term damage.
Some links you will need
- Public Sector Workplace Relations Policy 2020
- APSC bargaining guide (see page 18 & 19)
- The Fairwork Ombudsman
- Fair Work Act
- The legislative framework for the APS
If you need help developing a communication strategy for your enterprise bargaining contact Elm Communications (I have been there and done it before!).