In October of last year we received a call from one of our regular clients who was keen to be quoted for a negotiation workshop for their shop stewards. Clearly this was a bit out of the norm so we set up an appointment and the following day met with their HR and General Manager. There we started to unpack what on the surface seemed to be a rather strange request....


For three consecutive years this particular company had suffered at the hands of highly destructive strikes- strikes which had taken their toll on the levels of trust between union employees and management.  In fact at one point this organisation’s management were forced to evacuate the premises in fear for their lives. In addition to this, once strike action has taken place there remains a lasting rift between union and non-union members.

Our mandate was simple.


“Teach our shop stewards how to negotiate so that we can have fruitful negotiations.  We don’t want any more strikes.”


On the surface this seems to be an easy enough task, but in reality we were being asked to perform a miracle in a two or three day period.


Firstly we needed to design the course material in a way that would demonstrate our impartiality.  We would be teaching opposing sides of the negotiation table exactly the same techniques, and we needed to satisfy the unions thatno indoctrination was taking place.


Secondly, we needed to build trust with the obviously distrustful and highly cynical shop stewards who could not understand why their company would pay for us to arm them for the upcoming battle.


Thirdly, we needed to understand that the inclination would be to get bogged down in detail and history, thereby derailing the workshop.


Fourthly, we were dealing with individuals who in some cases had Masters Degrees and in others had only passed grade 11, andwe needed 100% engagement 100% of the time.


It was a mammoth task. And one of the most invigorating of the year.


We are delighted that our 15 years’ experience in workshop presentations and our diverse training methodologies ended up pleasing our client, their shop stewards and union representatives tremendously.  We walked the tightrope of impartiality and fairness and for the first time in four years, this particular client and their union stewards came to fruitful and productive wage negotiation outcomes without strike action taking place. 


Their brilliant forward thinking HR manager’s idea combined with our execution. Can you afford not to try it?


© Debbie Engelbrecht

Debbie Engelbrecht is the CEO of Staff Training, established in 2001.  She is a soft skills facilitator and management coach and strives to enthuse, assist and empower her fellow South Africans wherever she has the skill to do so.


Contact Staff Training at (021) 839 3021, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit their website at