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To negotiate or not

Andy Archibald
Negotiaiton PO Ferries [Converted]
© Adobe Stock

The removal of 800 P&O Ferries staff quite rightly continues to make the headlines, given the extraordinary impact on those now looking for new employment and the even more extraordinary admission by the company that it knowingly ignored a requirement to consult with trade unions.

One of the many things the situation highlights is the different options for resolving conflicts, which all come with benefits and costs. As experts, we focus on negotiation as a means of resolving conflict. The upside of negotiation is it works towards mutually-beneficial outcomes, with the costs being any concessions made to get something in return.

But we recognise there are other ways too, including imposing your will as P&O Ferries has chosen to do here. By doing so, the company has (so far) got 100% of what it wanted, including, they would argue, surviving. But imposing your will can come at a significant cost, including damages to your reputation and key relationships that can be incredibly difficult to repair. 

Since the announcement, there has been a considerable backlash against the company. Two of the company's ships (and counting) have been detained after failing safety inspections and the Government is piling on the pressure to rehire all 800 staff at the original salaries.

The rationale for the decision was that no union would have accepted the plan, and therefore, it was easier to compensate workers in full instead (on the condition that the staff forgo any opportunity to challenge P&O Ferries legally). That may be true. I am not privy to the company, so I cannot say if it is certain or not that any proposal made to the unions or request for financial support, whether public or private, would have failed. However, there have been situations elsewhere where agreements have been reached between government and unions to reduce salaries rather than make large scale redundancies.

Looking in from the outside, it certainly feels that one option would have been to explore and discuss the feasibility of negotiating a package to survive, whether that be public and/or private. And if unsuccessful, then proceed with the restructure.

There are many situations where you must impose your will. But you should recognise the downsides of doing so and decide if it is the best thing to do, or is there another option that can be attempted first e.g. negotiate. Those who choose to impose their will tend to get what they want, but those who are impacted tend to retain long memories.

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