Supporting the independent education community

Negotiating Campaigning and Handling Grievances

Handling Grievances

The framework
A useful framework for dealing with grievances is:


  • What happened?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Who was there?
  • What does the award/agreement say?
  • Has it happened before?

What is/are the issue/s?
(The fact, for example, may be that members have been instructed that they are expected to attend the retiring Principal's testimonial dinner. The issue is that some members don't want to do it due to their family responsibilities and others because they felt the retiring Principal to be unworthy.)

What can be done
eg refuse, agree to attend, talk to AP, pass a chapter motion insisting attendance be voluntary etc.

What will be done
Representing individual members
Your members will come to you for all sorts of information and help.
For example, you may get questions about:

  • some of the services provided by the IEU
  • "how do I get maternity/paternity leave?
  • "do you think my mother should be getting a pension?"
  • "what is the IEU doing about ......?" or "what are you doing about....?"
  • and dozens of others.

Three golden rules

Ask yourself, why the question is being asked? Is it just a passing interest, or is it an important problem for the individual. Is it something that matters to a group of members? Can it be used as an organising issue?

Only give an on-the-spot answer if you are absolutely sure it is correct. If in any doubt, say that you will check. When you have checked (from your own resources or through contacting the union office) get back to the person as soon as possible.

Keep a brief note. First, as a reminder if you have to check the answer, second so that later you can ask the person "Is everything alright now?", and third because your records may uncover a more general issue.

Don't let members think you have a magic wand. If they want issues resolved, they need to get involved. They will see the difference in management's response when you all work together.

Negotiating and Campaigning to winpaigning to win

Preparing for negotiations

Preparation is the most critical phase for successful negotiations. Your team will certainly do a good job if they are well prepared.

  • Have clear objectives. What do you want to achieve?
  • Make sure you have workplace support.
  • Collect all the relevant facts and information you can about the issue(s). Use the ideas and issues of members on the job.
  • Write down as clearly as you can the key arguments in favour of your claim.
  • Plan your tactics for the negotiating table. Who will be on the team, who will be the spokesperson, who will take the notes?
  • How will management respond? Who will represent management? Are they the decision makers?
  • What are your options? If necessary, do you have a compromise or fall back position?
  • How will you inform members of the results after the negotiation? You must keep the support and involvement of workers.

Don't forget that there are two aspects to a claim - one is the strength of your argument, the other is the strength of workplace support.

Consider letting management know the nature of your claim before the first meeting. This will enable them to think about your claim and may speed up the negotiation. There is little point in springing a claim on them if their immediate response is to say "We will have to think about it".

At the negotiations

Your preparations will now pay off

  • the chief spokesperson must control the team
  • ensure that one member makes careful notes
  • be firm but polite
  • don't be sidetracked - stick to the issues
  • do not discuss or debate offers with your colleagues at the table - seek an adjournment
  • check management offers for clarity - be sure you understand any offer.

Some people say there are 'tricks'. These usually depend on acting - for example, pretending to get angry, shouting, walking out, threatening industrial action and so on.

You are strongly advised not to use such tricks. The best 'trick' is for your union team:

  • to be well prepared
  • to know you have workplace support
  • to present your case strongly and logically.

In negotiations, do not:

  • conduct negotiations alone- this can lead to confusion and misunderstanding
  • make a 'deal' beyond your authority - have the support of your workplace
  • debate issues with your own colleagues during negotiations. If things seem to be going wrong, call for an adjournment and discuss the matter in private.

When management responds to your presentation, listen carefully and ask questions to make sure that you have the correct picture.

If there is an offer, make sure you understand what has been offered.

At the end of the meeting

  • summarise the final position to check that everyone agrees what it is
  • commit any agreement to writing and have both sides confirm it by signing it
  • if your claim is rejected or there is no offer likely to be acceptable to members, say that you have to consult with the members and the union
  • if the management make an offer which appears acceptable - do you have the authority to settle? If you are not sure, take it back to the members.

After the negotiation
Assess both the outcome and the way your team and the management performed. Learn from your experience, especially if you are going to continue the negotiation at another meeting.

If you have reached a satisfactory agreement:

  • prepare a report for the members and for the union office
  • what action will be needed to implement the agreement? Assign a member of the team to monitor implementation
  • celebrate your success with your team and others who contributed.

If you have an offer less than your expectations, or even a complete rejection:

  • review you objectives and your expectations
  • prepare a report for the members and the union office. Can you go back and try again?
  • if you are to try again, what new information and arguments do you need?
  • if you recommend accepting the management response at present, try to assess under what circumstances you could go back later - do you need more facts, more support from members?
  • Negotiation on some issues can take a long time. The important thing is to keep making gains!

How can members show support?

There are many ways members can display support. 'Display' is the key word here. What you want is for management to see that members are serious about the claim and are united in their support for it.

Here are some ideas:

  • if your claims are based on a survey of members, management will know that your claim reflects workplace opinions
  • if members of your workplace network talk to other members about the claim and collect information from them, this will also be known to management. Activists should promote discussion at meal and other breaks
  • unity of purpose and solidarity can be demonstrated by everyone wearing a coloured ribbon or badge, or even wearing the same coloured clothing. Management will soon know why they are doing it. A petition is another way to demonstrate support
  • if there is a health and safety issue, everyone might wear a band aid in an obvious place
  • holding a picnic or BBQ for workers and their children with posters and other signs which highlight the issue. You may be able to involve local community organisations in such an activity if the issue is of interest to them
  • produce flyers which support your claim. Use them to lead discussions at meal breaks
  • when initially presenting the claim, all members affected might take the claim to the management.

The workplace committee can use its imagination freely!
Introducing an element of fun does not detract from a show of solidarity. In fact it may help members who feel diffident or fearful about being involved in a 'dispute'.

Running an effective campaign

Identify the issue
How do we identify issues?
Analyse the issue

Factors we need to consider:

  • Is it 'Widely' Felt?
  • Is it 'Deeply' Felt?
  • Will it Lead to a 'Real Improvement(s)' for members?
  • Will it 'Empower' members?
  • Will it 'Build Solidarity'?
  • Sends a 'Message' to the employer
  • Improves 'Visibility/Status' of the Union including the union chapter.


Assess strengths and weaknesses

  • Union membership/density
  • Level of activism of members
  • Level of support for the issue
  • Employer and school profile
  • History of disputes with the employer
  • Award or legislative framework.

Desired outcomes
Where do we want to land it?

  • Need to be 'Specific'
  • Must be 'Realistic'
  • Are they 'Achievable'?
  • Do they 'Address the issue'?
  • What is the 'Time frame'?

The plan of attack
From the analysis and assessment that has been done:

  • Identify activities and tasks that will achieve the desired outcomes
  • Decide how and when the activities and tasks will happen
  • Decide the means of communication and feedback
  • Set a timeframe.

Member action - Broad campaign
Possible actions:

  • Petitions/Letters
  • Stickers/Balloons/T Shirts/Posters
  • Meetings
  • Wider support • Community • Membership
  • Work to rule
  • Bans
  • Stop-work
  • Withdraw services (S***** word).

Member Action - School-based campaign
Possible actions:

  • Meet, discuss, pass motion
  • Negotiate with Principal/employer
  • Reconsider issues with Chapter (if unresolved, escalate). Consider alternatives, including legal/industrial strategies
  • Consider wider support
  • Initiate bans, stop work or other forms of action.


  • Act
  • Consult/Review
  • Escalate action if necessary
  • Settle as appropriate in the context of a 'win' by/for the members.

Review and Evaluate

  • Assess the outcome and the process
  • Advertise and celebrate successes
  • Publicly commend participants
  • Thank individuals
  • Use successes as a recruiting tool and to build 'union'
  • Plan further union activity.

Please note, some options not available unless a period of protection action has been achieved and an Electoral Commission vote for industrial action has been organised.