Labour disruptions can significantly impact municipal operations, employee productivity and the overall stability within the communities we serve. Whether it’s a strike, lock out, work-to-rule, or any other form of labour action, HR staff play a critical role in helping municipalities mitigate risks and ensuring continuity. Effective contingency planning is key to navigate these situations while minimizing the immediate and lasting impact of a labour disruption.

Here are some best practices to consider in the creation of robust labour disruption contingency plans:

1. Understand the Collective Bargaining Environment: We have experienced challenging labour negotiations in light COVID-19 recovery, rising inflation, and increased wage demands. Strike votes, last minute deals and tentative settlements not ratifying are a reality, as well as increased labour disruption activity across the Province. City Council must be equipped with this knowledge to provide bargaining teams with clear mandates in light of these unique challenges.

2. Understand the Legal Framework and Labour Relations Processes: This knowledge will guide our actions, ensure compliance and help anticipate important timelines that will inform our contingency plans.

3. Proactive Communications: Establish open channels of communication with employees and relevant stakeholders. This includes identifying spokespeople, understanding modes of communication (including social media) and preparing important messages in advance. Transparent and timely communication is crucial in building trust and managing expectations during uncertain times.

4. Risk Assessment and Scenario Planning: Municipal leaders must conduct a thorough risk assessment of their services and infrastructure to identify potential areas that could be impacted by a labour disruption. Consideration should be given to identifying critical service levels that must be maintained and developing multiple scenarios and contingency plans to address various outcomes. A proactive approach allows for swift responses based on the situation’s severity and complexity.

5. Cross-Training and Skill Development: Where possible, HR staff can encourage cross-training among employees to ensure that essential tasks can be covered by others in case of absenteeism or labour action; particularly with staff who may be redeployed during a labour disruption. Investing in ongoing skill development will also enhance workforce flexibility.

6. Maintain Updated Contact Information: Have up-to-date contact information for all employees, union representatives and key stakeholders. This ensures seamless communication during critical periods.

7. Resource Allocation and Outsourcing: Municipalities should assess the need for having additional resources or outsourcing options to maintain essential services. Having resources allocated to back-up plans for staffing, supplies or services can mitigate the impact of severe disruptions.

8. Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Skills: Equip bargaining teams with strong negotiation and conflict resolution skills, including tools and templates to negotiate effective picket line and return to work protocols. Being prepared to navigate these discussions and find common ground during disputes can be instrumental in resolving labour disruptions quickly.

9. Regularly Review Contingency Plans: Times change. Older contingency plans need to be reviewed and updated. Revisit these plans regularly with those involved to identify possible gaps and refine strategies.

10. Maintain a Safe Work Environment. Prioritize the safety and security of all employees and the public. During labour disruptions, tensions can rise, so ensuring a safe work environment is essential to prevent escalation and ensure wellbeing is maintained before, during and after any labour disruption.

11. Seek Guidance and Expert Advice. In complex situations, seek the help of legal counsel, communications experts and tap into the knowledge of experienced colleagues in other municipalities. The expertise of others can provide you with valuable insights and guidance in navigating uncertain times.

Labour Disruptions are challenging situations that require careful planning and swift, strategic decision making. By implementing these best practices, municipal HR professionals can better prepare their organizations to handle labour relations challenges while maintaining business continuity and minimizing the adverse impact within the communities we serve.

For more information on this topic, sign-up for the virtual half-day workshop, “Labour Disruption Contingency Planning – The City of Mississauga Experience” on December 4, 2023.

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