Category Archives: Mediation

Musings on the uses of mediation to settle disputes

BAA/Unite discussions and the need for further dialogue


In September I was interviewed on Sky News commenting on the discussions between BAA and Unite the Union, which took place under the auspices of ACAS at an undisclosed location.

Many critics have opined that Unite may be taking a more militarist view on strike action, and have questioned if they are prepared to threaten strike action that could have resulted in the closure of six airports over a 1 % (or 1.5% depending on who you speak to) pay increase what will they do when the cuts to the public sector are ushered in later this year?

Was the strike threat (and notably the reluctance to confirm whether any strike action would fall over the August bank holiday weekend) perhaps part of a sophisticated strategy to demonstrate that they are a force to be reckoned with as the sword of Damocles starts to hover over the public sector?  I am curious whether the strike threat was a sign that the biggest Union in the UK and Ireland was dipping it’s toe into the sea of unrest to test the waters for further industrial action.

We should also question in what circumstances the public will support future industrial action. I would suggest that the majority would support Union members who propose to strike over fears about their working conditions and public safety, such as the action proposed by the RMT Transport Union over conditions on the London underground. In contrast the battle for hearts and minds may be difficult to win over a pay increase (no matter how small); especially if hardworking families who have waited to find last minute holiday deals discover that their travel plans may be hampered.  It is imperative that we recognise the categories of staff who were balloted for the industrial action. We are talking about security staff, engineers, fire-fighters and support staff at BAA’s six airports, and these important workers are integral to the aviation industry, specifically in relation to security, and they should be listened to.

In my view we have to be careful not to venture into the realms of Union bashing, as the Unions carry out an important role, particularly by publicizing important issues which affect their members. For example, Unite are currently promoting a campaign to try and prevent baggage handlers in the aviation industry suffering from muscular skeletal injuries, and the RMT Union are raising awareness of safety concerns on the Tube tracks.

For further comments on this issue please follow this link to my article published on politics.co.uk.

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ACAS/TUC mediation guide for Trade Union representatives


On an almost weekly basis we hear the foreboding news that cuts to the public sector will bring co-ordinated industrial action and civil unrest.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom as a recent joint announcement by ACAS, the employment relations service, and the TUC espouses the virtues of mediation, and may point towards a new approach to resolving disputes by the union movement. 

ACAS and the TUC have published a new 18 page guide[1] for trade union representatives which explains how mediation can compliment their role in helping to avoid costly disputes.  The introduction points out that whilst not offered as a panacea mediation can offer a way to avoid the potentially disruptive effects of drawn out conflict.

The new guide explains:

  • What happens during a mediation,
  • The role of representatives in a mediation and how to support members,
  • How to work with employers to set up mediation arrangements,
  • How mediation fits with other workplace procedures and agreements, and, 
  • How Trade Union representatives can act as mediators.

A culture change?

The Chair of ACAS, Ed Sweeney, noted the change in direction, when he opined: “In the past there has been some reluctance to use mediation within the union movement as it was seen as a possible barrier to justice. Despite some apprehension, we are increasingly seeing evidence of trade unions recognising the benefits it can bring to their members.”

Philip Henson, comments:

Whilst I am pleased that the virtues of mediation are being promoted by the TUC and ACAS, unfortunately the new guidance sends some mixed messages. The comment that “it [mediation] can also be used to rebuild relations after a member of staff has been through a disciplinary or grievance process”, points towards mediation being seen as a tool for reconciliation after each disciplinary or grievance process. Whilst in a Utopian world that might be an ideal way to restore the relationship between the parties, mediation should not be an automatic add on to the end of the existing grievance and discipline procedures (as can be inferred) as such a proposal would bring an unjustifiable amount of pressure on management time and resources; particularly for any SME’s who do not have a dedicated HR function.

I also find it difficult to reconcile the declaration that mediation can be used “at any point in the conflict cycle”, with the comment later in the guidance that “it [mediation] should only be used where agreed procedures have been exhausted or the parties agreed to put them in abeyance”, which appears to indicate that mediation might be seen as a process of last resort.

Furthermore the declaration that mediation is “morally binding and has no legal status (unless the parties so desire)”, does not clearly explain the benefits of setting out the fruits of the labour of the mediation in an agreement between the parties.

The section “can trade union representatives be mediators?” promotes the skills of trade union representatives to employers who are looking to recruit internal mediators. It continues that where trade union representatives do act as mediators they should “avoid mediating for individuals who they also represent”.  In fact what they should clearly be stating here is that if you are a mediator and you are asked to mediate in a dispute involving an individual that you already represent then you will not be able to act as a mediator as there will be a clear conflict of interest.


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