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Policy on the Conduct of Negotiations for Collective Agreement

NZ Public Service Association:Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi


The PSA has established a number of bargaining strategies which have been signed off by the Executive Board. Implementation of these strategies involves the pursuit of the interests of individual PSA members as well as the collective interests of PSA members in a particular enterprise, industry, or across the union as a whole. Maximising the union’s influence in the pursuit of these interests involves strategic and tactical decision making from an individual, enterprise, and a whole of union perspective.

A strategic approach requires a recognition that bargaining takes place within a wider context than just the enterprise, business unit or occupational group, even when the actual negotiations take place at the enterprise level. The PSA has strategic interests within individual enterprises or groups of enterprises covered by the bargaining, just as state sector employers do. It is important the PSA develops a whole of union and industry approach within this environment to best engage with employer industry strategies to maximise our effectiveness. There is, therefore, a need to maintain consistency across settlements as we strive to promote both enterprise and national objectives, and a need to connect bargaining to what else is going on between the PSA and the employer within the enterprise or enterprises. Our bargaining strategies set out the PSA’s national objectives for bargaining while allowing us to address the more specific needs of members within their workplace.

A policy is needed to provide clarity about the respective responsibilities of those involved, ensure consistency, promote both the wider and enterprise level interests of members and manage the precedent value of any settlement.


To ensure that the PSA achieves the maximum effectiveness in the implementation of the union’s bargaining strategies by ensuring consistency in the process of negotiation through appropriate support, direction and accountabilities for negotiating teams.

Relationship to other documents

This policy should be read in conjunction with the relevant PSA bargaining strategy, the PSA model Bargaining Process Agreement, the PSA Ground Rules, enterprise plans, the PSA Bargaining Outcomes and the PSA Bargaining Plan template.


This policy applies to all PSA negotiations where the PSA is the only or the dominant union. In bargaining for multi-union collective agreements where the PSA has to compromise with other unions it is recognised that the details of the policy may not always be able to be adhered to.

Similarly, in some workplaces the details may not always be appropriately applied, depending on the particular circumstances and/or structures.

For the avoidance of doubt, this policy also applies to negotiations for variations to collective agreements.

Roles and Responsibilities

Executive Board
The Executive Board has the responsibility to set and monitor the implementation of whole of union bargaining strategies.

Implementing a whole of Union bargaining strategy involves the Secretariat providing a whole of union oversight. The wider interests of members are best served when the union is able to ensure, as far as possible, a disciplined approach to bargaining. In achieving this the Secretariat is expected to exercise a degree of co-ordination and control of the entire bargaining process, provided that any and all proposed collective agreements must be ratified by at least a majority of affected members to become PSA Collective Employment Agreements.

The staff roles set out in this policy are delegated by the Secretariat to maximise the operation of this policy. The Secretariat has responsibility to ensure that the staff of the union provide appropriate direction and support by:

  • Providing adequate training for members of negotiating teams
  • Providing administrative support for bargaining teams
  • Providing for effective communication of bargaining strategies and bargaining progress to members
  • Providing adequate resources to support bargaining
  • Ensuring there are clear processes for accountability of negotiating teams
  • Providing guidance and direction throughout the bargaining process, on the expectations arising out of the PSA bargaining strategies and the degree of discretion that negotiating teams have in working to the bargaining brief
  • Providing guidance, support and direction throughout the bargaining process should negotiating teams indicate difficulty in achieving the bargaining brief
  • Helping to resolve any conflicts in the negotiating team.
  • Providing leadership for the negotiating team
  • Facilitating the efficient and timely conduct of negotiations

Negotiating Team
Individual negotiating teams have a dual accountability. They are representatives of their members in the enterprise or group of enterprises, and are also representatives of the PSA. That is, they work to meet the needs of the members within their enterprise or group of enterprises, are aware of the links between bargaining and the wider relationship with the employer(s), while actively seeking to achieve the objectives of any relevant PSA bargaining strategy. They are also aware of the precedent value of any settlement they promote for PSA members in other enterprises.

Negotiating teams are composed of members (usually delegates) who in any given situation best reflect the range of members represented and who have collectively the skills suited to the task of bargaining. Negotiating teams also contain a PSA staff member acting as an advocate who leads both the content and process of bargaining. In addition, a PSA assistant secretary will normally be included formally as a negotiating team member, but may not normally attend bargaining but be available to do so if required.

Negotiating teams have the following responsibilities:

  • To help develop a bargaining brief that reflects and is consistent with both PSA bargaining strategies and the expressed needs of members in that enterprise, or groups of enterprises
  • To work to that bargaining brief
  • As individuals, to work co-operatively as part of the bargaining team. This includes debating differences in a constructive way and respecting the collective responsibility of the team once decisions are reached and owning both individually and collectively those decisions.
  • To recognise that while individuals have particular expertise about issues in their workplace, occupation or business unit, they are representing all PSA members in their enterprise or group of enterprises, as well as the PSA as a whole
  • To follow any processes and guidelines established under this policy
  • To communicate regularly with members and the PSA
  • To agree to a new collective agreement that is consistent with the bargaining brief
  • To make recommendations to members in support of a proposal for a new collective agreement , or recommend an alternative course of action where a suitable proposal for a new collective agreement does not exist.

The members covered by any given set of negotiations for a collective agreement are expected to play an active role in the process including
• Approving by a majority of members the bargaining brief to be followed by the negotiating team, including the Union’s agenda for bargaining, the composition of the negotiating team and the final ratification process.
• Ratifying any proposed collective agreement
• Approving by democratic vote, any decision to take industrial action in support of a collective agreement
• Promoting and supporting the work of the Union and the bargaining team during negotiations to potential members and the employer.

Enterprise-based Democratic Structures
There are a variety of enterprise-based democratic structures within the PSA, reflecting the varied nature of the union’s coverage e.g.

  • National Delegate Committees in the case of national enterprises
  • Industrial Councils in the case of the district health boards
  • Enterprise delegate committees in the case of local or regional enterprises
  • Meetings of members in small enterprises

All these democratic structures have a role in selecting negotiating teams, helping to develop a bargaining brief, receiving regular reports from the negotiating team and ensuring that the needs of the members in the enterprise or bargaining unit are being reflected in the bargaining process.

The Bargaining Brief

The bargaining brief sets out the issues that will be the focus of bargaining, and provides the framework for the work of the negotiating team, including the degree of discretion allowed to the team on particular matters. It is not a set of claims.

The bargaining brief is developed early by the enterprise democratic structure, together with the negotiating team and reflects:

  • The PSA bargaining strategy objectives (including the statement of bargaining outcomes)
  • The strategic situation of the enterprise or group of enterprises
  • The PSA’s strategic objectives within the enterprise or group of enterprises
  • The issues raised by members.

The statement of bargaining outcomes provides guidance from the PSA on the implementation of the bargaining strategy and sets out broad parameters within which the negotiating team must work. Where necessary it may specify some matters that may not be varied.

Any other guidance from the PSA should reflect the situation of the enterprise, including its relationship to other sections of the PSA’s membership and the likely weight given to any precedent arising out of a settlement there, and any other strategic objectives being pursued by the PSA within that enterprise.

The negotiating team must check with the Assistant Secretary that the bargaining brief promotes, and is consistent with the relevant PSA bargaining strategy.

The Bargaining Process Agreement

The PSA has a model bargaining process agreement, which serves as the basis for all bargaining process agreements.

In the course of negotiating a bargaining process agreement with an employer or group of employers there is potential for the final agreement to vary from the model. Where this variation is likely to be significant (e.g. where key elements of the model are undermined) the negotiating team must refer the issue back to the appropriate Assistant Secretary.

The advocate signs the final version of the bargaining process agreement.

Communicating Progress of Bargaining

Members are kept informed on progress in negotiations.

Enterprise-based democratic structures receive regular verbal and written reports on the progress of bargaining and work with the negotiating team to ensure the maintenance of the bargaining brief.

The Assistant Secretaries receive regular reports on the progress of bargaining. In particular, proposals are tested early with the Assistant Secretary where they might be contentious or have the potential to be outside the expected outcomes of bargaining. This communication should ensure that there are ‘no surprises’ for either the negotiating team or the PSA.

During the course of bargaining both the Assistant Secretary and the Secretariat can refer proposals back to the negotiating team to revisit where they:

  • Are inconsistent with the bargaining strategy
  • Could undermine the PSA’s strategic objectives within the enterprise or group of enterprises
  • Might set a negative precedent for other bargaining.


When in mediation negotiating teams work according to the principles and obligations contained in this policy, as in open negotiation. The authority to decide to go to mediation lies with the full negotiating team and the Assistant Secretary in consultation with the enterprise based democratic structure.

Industrial Action

The authority to recommend industrial action lies with the full negotiating team and the Secretariat, after consultation with the enterprise-based democratic structure.

The decision to take industrial action is made by a majority (usually 50%+1) of PSA members in the affected bargaining unit who vote in a democratic ballot. A higher threshold may be agreed by the members.

Authority to Settle

The union’s negotiating team has the authority to bargain to the point of achieving a proposed collective agreement and then must refer any proposed collective agreement to the Secretariat/Assistant Secretary and enterprise-based democratic structure for consideration.

The Secretariat/Assistant Secretary will check the proposed collective agreement and may refer it back to the negotiating team to revisit in bargaining if they decide that it:

  • is inconsistent with the bargaining strategy
  • could undermine the PSA’s strategic objectives within the enterprise or group of enterprises
  • sets a negative precedent for other bargaining.

Before making a decision to support or refer back a proposed collective agreement the Assistant Secretary or Secretariat is to confer with the negotiating team and enterprise-based democratic structure.


Ratification will normally be on the basis of 50%+1 of the votes cast in a democratic ballot being in favour of accepting the proposed collective agreement although a higher threshold may be agreed by the members.

When the proposal is to vary a collective agreement, the ratification procedure must be consistent with the ratification clause contained in the collective agreement.

The process for ratification is endorsed by a ballot of members held prior to the commencement of negotiations.

The Advocate notifies the employer in writing of the endorsed ratification procedure prior to beginning negotiations.

The Advocate will oversees the ratification process in accordance with the bargaining process agreement. The reporting back to members on the proposed collective agreement and progress against the negotiating brief is normally the responsibility of the negotiating team.

Before referring a proposed collective agreement to members for ratification, the Advocate ensures the employer has signed the proposed collective agreement.

A copy of the proposed collective agreement, with changes noted, must be provided to members prior to a ratification ballot being held.


A collective agreement may be signed only after it has been ratified by members.

The Advocate, Assistant Secretary or a National Secretary may sign a collective agreement on behalf of the PSA.

After the bargaining

As soon as possible after ratification the Advocate will ensure the Organising Centre is sent a final signed copy of the collective agreement and the information team is sent an electronic copy of the collective agreement. Copies of all collective agreements are held in the Wellington office of PSA.

The Advocate will input the barging outcomes in the Bargaining Outcomes Tool in MOST.

The Advocate will complete an evaluation of the negotiation process and outcomes with the negotiating team and, where possible also with the employer.

Note: This policy should be read in conjunction with the relevant PSA Bargaining Strategy, and PSA bargaining priorities, the PSA model Bargaining Process Agreement, the PSA Ground Rules, enterprise plans, the PSA Bargaining Outcomes and the PSA Bargaining Plan template.]