Can Trade Union Representatives serve as Mediators?
We are about to train a group of internal mediators and have had requests from several Trade Union representatives who would like to take part. We’re not keen on this as we’re concerned there will be a, conflict of interest, but we don’t wish to ‘clash’ over this. What do you advise we do?
This is a dilemma quite a few of our clients have faced so you’re definitely not alone!
I agree with your concerns regarding potential conflict of interest in playing both roles, but I would say that this could also apply to Bullying and Harassment Advisers or other roles. (And even to HR staff.) Our mediation training teaches delegates the importance of taking off all other ‘hats’ when mediating and many find this a real challenge (especially if they are trained/accustomed to playing an advocacy or advisory role). So for those in potentially conflicting roles the key thing would be to have clear boundaries around each role. E.g. if you do let any of your TU reps become mediators, everyone (reps, members and potential parties to mediation) would need to be clear when they are playing each role, and that they will not mediate where they have also represented and vice versa. And, as you say, the perceptions of this difference are as importance as the skills to deal with it, as the parties to mediation will likely know their usual role and be wary of this. When we train TU reps or HR staff to be mediators, we suggest that they say explicitly when opening the mediation that “while my day job is xxxx, today I am here as a trained mediator not as a xxxx’.
Some organisations we’ve worked with have decided to allow just one or two TU reps to train as mediators. This is quite a pragmatic and sensible approach in my mind as it builds trust amongst TU reps in mediation and reassures them that they are not being excluded. And often after the training, when they have a greater understanding of the challenges of mediation, they may decide themselves that it is too difficult to take on both roles. However, although this means you could risk losing one or two mediators as a result of this realisation, they will go on to be a great advocate of mediation instead. So it will hopefully only strengthen the reputation and take-up for your scheme, whereas a strict disallowing of TU reps may just alienate them and cause them to obstruct the mediation scheme.
It sounds like a mediation awareness session could be beneficial, specifically for your TU reps. We are available to facilitate this session that could have dual aims of educating in what mediation is, the mediator’s role etc, and in gaining TU rep buy-in to mediation (hearing their concerns and hopefully overcoming any).
One final bit of advice – if you haven’t already done so, I would suggest asking rather than telling will be most effective. For example, have you tried asking them what the challenges might be of juggling both roles?
I hope that this is helpful – let me know how it goes. And good luck!