I am currently a consultant of a global airline company that has a branch in the Philippines. One of its decent work practices is recognizing the presence of the union and its right to negotiate for a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to improve the employees’ working conditions, and protect the rights of its members. I sat as a management representative in the negotiation of the renewal of their existing CBA three years ago, and even during the negotiation of the wage-reopener clause at the start of 2013. It took us one year to conclude the five-year contract and 10 months to agree on the new wage increase for the next two years. In both negotiations, we had a deadlock on the wage issue. The Conciliator from the National Mediation and Conciliation Board (NCMB) had to intervene to resolve our dispute.
The impasse emanated from our unwillingness to compromise. Therefore, we had a hard time reconciling our differences on what the union demanded and what we could offer as management. During the conciliation meeting, the dispute settlement style of the conciliator was very crucial. He focused on increasing our commitment to mutually resolve the dispute for a win-win solution, while maintaining respect and having the patience to arrive at a decision. He created an atmosphere of trust for ensuring open communication. After several meetings, I realized that any conciliator must be just, sincere, honest and professional in dealing with us in the shortest possible time to effectively settle our dispute. In our experience, one year is a long time to settle a dispute that is favorable to both parties. But can you imagine other unionized companies whose CBA deadlock last for several years before it is resolved at the compulsory arbitration level?
Based on this experience, I propose that these recommendations be considered by the union, management and the government in rendering a more effective labor-management dispute settlement system in our country:
Upgrade the competencies of all conciliators and arbiters. A continuing upgrading of the technical and behavioral skills of the conciliators and arbiters in dispute settlement should be undertaken. Since they are the third party who is expected to help in the speedy but just resolution of disputes. Give emphasis on learning the Labor Laws and acquiring the ethical behavior and traits to improving their methods of negotiation, conflict resolution, and cooperative decision-making that will make them effective in the performance of their function.
Conduct massive information dissemination on labor laws for management and union. There is a need to improve the capacity of both management and union representatives to learn by heart the Labor Laws, since this is the legal foundations of the issues in contention in the workplace dispute. This will also lessen the reliance on lawyers who in many instances prolong the process of dispute settlement due to the many legal technicalities they raise during the hearing or meeting.
Create a one-stop shop for quick settlement of cases. Records of NCMB have shown that it takes many days to settle cases. This long period is usually disadvantageous to the workers. The “one-stop shop” concept of dispute settlement can help streamline procedures to accelerate case disposition as well as prevent corruption.
Reform the Philippine industrial relations system. It seems that the fundamental problem lies in the framework of our industrial relations systems, which is basically patterned after the American system. It is too legalistic, bureaucratic and corrupt. The abolition of the National Labor Relations Commission and NCMB, and replacing them with new structures of alternative dispute settlement should be considered.
Dr. Divina Edralin is a Full Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. She teaches Human Behavior in Organizations, Strategic Human Resource Management, Labor Relations and Research. She is also a management consultant to SME’s, schools, and NGOs. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of De La Salle University, its faculty and administrators.