Dispute solutions delayed by third-party intervention

The interference of third parties in industrial disputes – such as the
Government’s recent role in trying to end the firefighters strike – can delay a
successful resolution.

This is the conclusion of a study funded by the Economic and Social Research
Council, which examined the effect of the presence of those not directly
involved in the dispute, but who are able to provide additional resources to
help reach an agreement.

The research finds that the possibility that a third-party mediator may
intervene in negotiations creates the potential for delays, by increasing the
expectation that one side can be pressurised into conceding ground or

The report was published after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
threatened to enforce a pay settlement on the striking firefighters.

Paola Manzini of Queen Mary, University of London, who led the study,
stressed that third-party mediators can prove beneficial to dispute resolution,
provided their role is limited.

"On the other hand, so long as the amount of resources the mediator can
make available is sufficiently small, the bargainer’s incentive for a stalemate
is reduced," he said.

The study, which was completed in conjunction with Clara Ponsati of
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, highlights the incentive for governments to
decentralise negotiations and become ‘active mediators’, rather than
directly-involved negotiators.

Privatisation, for instance, creates a three-party framework, with
negotiations between management and workers, with the Government in the role of
the ‘active mediator’.

The report suggests the Government should use legislation to limit its
involvement as much as possible – for instance, by introducing tougher
requirements for firms to consult with the workforce before taking decisions
that may have a great impact on jobs.

But, said Manzini: "Interestingly, the present UK Government seems to
favour these mandatory interventions less and less. The undesired effect, is
that governments progressively become more active players in

By Ben Willmott


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