Top tips from the table

New additions to our employment relations team bring with them a wealth of knowledge of industrial and employment relations, most recently in the challenging context of the New Zealand public health sector.

In this article, Aaron Crawford and Stephen Gray share their top tips for successful bargaining – as well as insights from their long experience helping organisations develop effective employment relations strategy. 

In their work as employment relations specialists Aaron and Stephen have successfully managed the demands of a complex mix of multiple unions, multiple employers, and diverse workforce groups, while maintaining perspective on the importance of access to quality health care for all New Zealanders. It has required clear thinking and resilience, as well as strong skills in employment negotiations, managing relationships and advising and delivering on a sector-wide strategy.

We are thrilled to have them join the employment services team at MartinJenkins, and take the opportunity to share some practical gems gleaned in their recent experience, plus the obvious question ‘why give that all up?’.

Q: What’s key to successful collective bargaining?


  • Understand what it is that the Chief Executive and senior leadership are wanting to achieve and why.
  • Know your workforce – what drives them, who are they, how they can best contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s objectives.
  • Learn what is critical to the business, and what is discretionary.
  • Always look for or create opportunities that move the parties towards a satisfactory settlement.


  • Challenge and question the status quo. Getting a deal over the line often requires creativity and being open-minded. Understand why the status quo is the status quo, but don’t assume that it has to stay that way.
  • Run the numbers, talk to the people and get to know the business inside and out to understand what the real priorities are – so you can see clearly how employment relations can contribute to getting the organisation to where it needs to go. 
  • You can’t over prepare for collective bargaining. Preparation is an important investment – inevitably it pays for itself.

Q: What should every Employment Relations practitioner never forget?

Stephen: Know what the end point should look like. As much as you can enjoy the process, it helps control the inevitable stress.

Aaron: If faced with something unexpected see how it can be turned into an opportunity to get closer to a settlement. All employment negotiations settle; it is just a matter of when.

Q: So what brings you to MartinJenkins?

Stephen: The opportunity to continue to do interesting and challenging work for a wider range of sectors and organisations. MartinJenkins has a reputation for being called on to assist in delivering solutions to problems and issues that often have implications wider than just state sector employment. They achieve this in a low-key discreet manner and this suits my preferred way of operating.

Aaron: I’ve worked with a number of MartinJenkins staff in the past and have always been impressed by the experience, networks and insights they brought to the issues facing us. So a chance to work with those people, and the opportunity to contribute to a wider range of ER settings, are both significant factors.

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