Time Stamps in Negotiations

Negotiation and the News is brought to you this week from Cape Town South Africa, where rail travel has ceased. Google (or Bing) “South Africa Rail Strike”, and check out the news. In general two groups of rail employees have struck. First those transporting goods, followed by those transporting passengers. The normal management / union disagreements apply – a mismatch in positions and demands for wages and benefits. Your Negotiation and the News correspondent, being in Cape Town ready to travel (by rail) to Johannesburg, reported live on May 15th. The strike is a classic example of negotiation “time stamps” in action.

The passenger rail strike started on May 15th. The FIFA World Cup starts in Cape Town on June 11th. The pressure on the management side to cave in will build significantly as the June 11th date approaches, and the city fills with teams and fans for a huge worldwide event. In this case, management is the South African government. The government can expect calls to start coming in from FIFA looking for status and progress reports on resolution of the strike. South Africa’s infrastructure is already going to be scrutinized by the world as the event progresses. The strike will add to the world’s willingness to second-guess. Public performance of the government is a tremendous issue of pride and face. Government action (or lack of action) will be assessed. At the same time, the government’s willingness to be “pushed around” will also be assessed both internally and externally.

On the face of it, from news reports, the differences are modest between the sides. I am sure they do not seem that way to those involved.

What about the unions? If they are narrow in their assessment of the options, they may miss the downside. This pressure on the government is tremendous. However, there are available actions beyond giving in. In years past, governments have used military substitutes, wholesale firing and new hiring, legislative alternatives such as making key public sector strikes illegal, and more. From a time stamp viewpoint, the day of the strike is key in terms of some of these alternatives. Strike too soon, and the government options increase. Strike too late, and the same is true. If the union forgets that there are other options besides a concession from the Government, and is ill-prepared for alternatives, it can err.

The pressure actually builds on both sides, and at some point if the World Cup goes badly, the unions will generate negative reaction as well as the government.

There is also local impact that is large outside of the World Cup. Traffic congestion is up significantly. Commuters who used the train to get to work have issues. These pressures will also build and abate with time. Probably the only happy locals right now are the taxi drivers…

Most of this illustrates the effect of time stamps. When do you start? How does the pressure build? When does it peak and abate, and when is your negotiation leverage strongest? These are all relevant questions you should ask yourself in your negotiations. Watch the South Africa rail strike to learn more. (td)

Got a question? Email a K&R negotiator directly at ask@negotiators.com.