As the end of the financial year approaches, it’s timely for organisations to review how they are tracking in terms of compliance with any Enterprise Agreements they have in place. Worklogic Principal Consultant, Samantha Edwards discusses the issues that can arise and why reviews of agreements are so important.
Negotiating an Enterprise Agreement can be a gruelling task for even the hardened HR practitioner, often involving periods of high conflict, managing a multitude of internal and external stakeholders, contingency and risk management planning, painstaking drafting and navigating of complex regulatory requirements. It is not unusual for negotiations to become protracted, consuming several months of intense planning and negotiations. It is perhaps not surprising then that once the deal is done and dusted, there is limited momentum left to manage its implementation with the same rigour as its negotiation.
Post commencement, some of the many issues which can crop up in implementing an Enterprise Agreement are:
- Unclear expectations as to who is responsible for ensuring compliance, or this responsibility may rest with someone not closely involved in the negotiations;
- Lack of adequate staffing to support a carefully managed implementation process, as HR or workplace relations staff involved in negotiations need to return to ‘business as usual’ and other priorities;
- Unforeseen issues being encountered in its practical implementation, eg payroll and HR software capabilities. This may lead to a time lag in implementation of a clause, or the need for a ‘work around’ which requires communication and potentially consultation;
- Different understandings or assumptions between management and employees/union as to how certain terms would operate in practice, not apparent during negotiations;
- The agreed intention or operation of a clause is lost over time or the drafting of the clause is ambiguous, leading to uncertainties or differing opinions as to how the clause should operate. This may be compounded over time with staff changes and loss of corporate memory;
- Perceptions of a ‘set and forget’ mentality by employees, perhaps due to clear and effective communication with employees about the implementation strategy.
Employers would do well to consider devising an Implementation Plan to ensure your carefully crafted Enterprise Agreement receives the attention it needs in the implementation phase. An Implementation Plan includes documented responsibilities, timeframes, a stakeholder communication plan and a phase for post-implementation review. Without these measures, any issues arising in implementation may only surface in the form of employee disengagement and disputes, leaving the employer in a reactionary space and consuming more management time than might otherwise be the case. Down the track, any unresolved or contentious issues may also cloud the next round of negotiations.
A Post-Implementation Review can be a very valuable tool for organisations, and may be undertaken at any stage, although the 6 or 12 month mark is often appropriate. A review can also be conducted in the lead up to the next round of negotiations. The purposes of a post implementation review is to:
- Audit compliance with the new Enterprise Agreement and with Implementation Plan;
- Any clauses or issues which would benefit from legal advice, to ensure certainty;
- Review the effectiveness of current methods for employee and union communication regarding issues relating to the Enterprise Agreement;
- Identify any emerging issues likely to lead to disputation or future claims by employees or the union.
Employers should consider the benefits of formally consulting employees and any union as part of a robust Post-Implementation Review. Such a step is an investment in forward planning for the next round of negotiations and can be an effective risk management strategy as well as enhancing employee engagement and the union-management relationship.
Worklogic consultants can assist organisations to ensure their new Enterprise Agreement hits the mark, and to anticipate and manage issues before they escalate. Our services include developing an Implementation Plan to guide the practical implementation of the Enterprise Agreement in the workplace and conducting Post-Implementation Reviews. Get in touch if you’d like to have an obligation-free chat with one experienced consultants.