Major Teoh’s Blog

March 7, 2007

Union – Friend or Foe?

Filed under: Industrial Relations,Union - Friend or Foe? — Major (Rtd) Teoh @ 1:23 pm

Union – Friend or Foe?
By Major (Rtd) Teoh

This question of whether to treat the union as a friend or foe has crossed the minds of many a budding HR professionals.

This is like the analogy of the usage and the handling of fire and the most lethal weapon the knife. If not handled properly they could turn out to be foe and if handled with care they could be very useful ally towards the achievement of the corporate goals and targets.

There is no basis for anyone to be afraid of the union. Union leaders are very experienced and knowledgeable and are very skilled at negotiations. If not they will not be chosen as union leaders. They are very sharp, alert and very responsive to remarks to a point of being quick witted at times.

Most budding HR professionals are not trained and they feel threatened when confronted or in dialogue with a unionist. In order to stand at par with the unionist and to be able to sit down at the negotiating table to thrash out matters of mutual concern, the budding HR professionals will have to be better trained and equipped.

The mastering of the English language is also an added advantage. Knowing where to put a comma; when to use the word “shall” or “will”, and the usage of the word “may” is always very helpful.

As far as I am concerned, the union is a friend, an ally and a partner. Management and union must always work hand in hand and in tandem with each other for the benefit of both parties.

Most union negotiations break down because both parties:

Are unreasonable;
Are not fair;
Are not willing to see and appreciate the other persons view points, problems and difficulties;
Want to be champions of a lost cause;
Both are hard-headed;

Unions while wanting to secure a better working life for their members must also appreciate the limitations of the company in wanting to make a reasonable profit.

Management, too, on the other hand, in wanting to make reasonable profit should not exploit their workers to the bone. In short there must be a conducive environment for co-existence. There is no necessity to be antagonistic, repulsive and sarcastic in all our deals. A little tack, patience and diplomacy will go a long way in building up a long and lasting harmonious relationship.


1 Comment »

  1. It is wonderful to read such constructive comments about union as a friend.

    I have a unionist for 14 years in a well established and respected GLC. It has truly been an experience redefined.

    From representing members in Domestic Inquiries to negotiating Collective Agreements, I must say, anyone who wants to know more about his/her rights, should get involved in a union and it’s activities.

    If I may, I would like to offer my advise to anyone who wants to get involved in their union.

    1. The time is NOW! There is no point in “I will think about it” because “time and tide waits for no man”.
    2. Be prepared. One can never get enough preparation before getting involved in any negotiation but you fail
    to plan, your plan will fail
    3. Be a “sponge”! Just soak in as much information you can, not only about the legislations and respective
    CA’s but also the past cases of issues addressed in courts which may help clarify certain issues not
    defined in the Acts.
    4. Remember! Always be loyal to the one who pays your salary i.e. your boss.
    5. Never use the union platform to jeopardise the organisation. Your issue is only an issue. Please always
    ADDRESS THE ISSUE AND NOT THE PERSON, but don’t forget, behind every issue is still a person.
    5. Always think Collectively and not for personal gain.
    6. Keep on the look out for new ideas on how to improve benefits for your members.
    7. Lastly, but not the least, don’t take things personally! The person sitting at the other end of the table
    is also a human being with a job to do.

    This is just my personal opinion and not in reference to anyone or any organisation whatsoever.


    Gerald Quinten

    Comment by gquinten — November 19, 2007 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

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