By: LaKEISHA McSWEENEY
Guardian Staff Reporter

Endeavouring to develop new ways to resolve conflict at the bargaining table is the main objective of the first of its kind Alternative Dispute Resolution.

The five-day conference being held in conjunction with the University of Windsor Law Faculty / Stitt Feld Handy Group got underway on Monday at the school of Hospitality and Tourism Studies.

Participants in the workshop include trade unionists, and people from a cross-section of the public and private sectors.

Vincent Peet, Minister of Labour and Immigration officially opened the workshop. In his remarks, he underscored the importance of government leaders, employers and trade unionists being knowledgeable in effectively addressing conflicts that arise in a continually changing global society.

He said while conflicts are a part of life, it was critical that all entities find ways to resolve conflicts in a harmonious way.

“The time has come for all of us to find better ways to resolve our disputes, without resorting to bitter exchanges, strikes, pay cuts and other punitive measures,” he said.
“It is no longer sufficient for us to be concerned about working conditions, pay increases and other employee benefits, we must also be concerned about how we relate to each other as partners and how we negotiate with one another to secure what we need from each other,” said Mr. Peet.

Towards this end, he suggested six steps aimed at beginning the process of better deliberations. The first, listening which he said would help with better dialogue of communication between the negotiating parties.

Secondly, he said it was important to ascertain facts and to present these facts fairly. Mr. Peet’s third suggestion was for negotiators to develop an appreciation and mutual respect for opposing viewpoints.

“Yes, you are entitled to your opinion,” he said, “but in the best interest of the organization, put yourselves in the other person’s shoes; in other words see both sides of the issue and to be prepared to make the necessary compromises.”

Fourth, the Minister proposed that those involved partner to provide the necessary resources needed for employees to be more productive in the workplace.

The fifth recommendation was partnering to provide adequate training “of yourselves and your members or employees.”

“Such training must not be limited to simply acquiring additional qualifications and skills, which I hasten to add are important,” he said, “but it must be expanded to include making changes to the attitudes and work ethics of all concerned so that greater value can be added to the companies or organizations you represent as well as to the customer.

The final suggestion was to ensure that the training and retraining initiatives would include provision for exchange programmes with neighbouring Caribbean countries “where new and exciting markets could be explored and further developed.”

“I encourage you to redouble your efforts to not only reestablish industrial harmony in the workplace, but promote fair-play and provide equal opportunities for all,” added Mr. Peet.

Paul Godin, representative, University of Windsor and Obie Ferguson, president of the Trade Union Congress also gave brief remarks.

Mr. Godin said it is envisioned that participants at the end of the conference, would be able to find new ways to resolve conflict and to refine tools that are already in use to solve disputes.

“What I want you to leave with is tools, a tool kit, if you will, to resolve conflicts and negotiate agreements more effectively,” he said.

The most important tool in reaching this objective, he said, was learning to deal with each other by learning to communicate in the “same language.”

Mr. Ferguson, in his remarks, stressed that education is the engine for development. He said negotiation was a process that could be facilitated harmoniously if unionists and employers would firstly distinguish between problems and people.

“So you must focus on interest and not on the problem,” he said.

He said negotiators must also examine possibilities and agree on standards or some measure that would allow the situation to be reviewed objectively.