Accueil » 58-2 ( 2003) » L’éthique en négociation collective : la perception de conseillères et conseillers syndicaux québécois

L’éthique en négociation collective : la perception de conseillères et conseillers syndicaux québécois

Josée Lapointe, Claudette Ross et Ginette Legault


La littérature spécialisée est peu loquace sur les règles d’éthique spécifiques à appliquer lors du processus de négociation collective. Cet article tente de dresser un premier portrait de ces règles. Suite à des entrevues auprès de praticiennes et praticiens québécois qui oeuvrent à titre de porte-parole syndicaux dans ce domaine, ce premier inventaire indique que le bilan des écrits actuels néglige certaines facettes de la négociation collective. Les résultats font de plus ressortir que l’éthique en la matière va au-delà de l’application d’une méthode de négociation basée sur les intérêts.


Ethics in Collective Negotiations: The Perceptions of Union Counsellors in Quebec

A number of authors (Adler and Bigoness 1992; Hébert 1992; Lewicki et al. 1994) have already underscored the relevance of and the need for ethical thinking in collective negotiations, yet this is a subject that has been virtually ignored by the specialist literature. Indeed, a study by Leahy (2001) uncovered less than ten papers written in the last twenty years whose principal subject was the ethical aspect of collective negotiations. Even if the search criteria are extended to include all organizational negotiations, the number of publications is still relatively low.

This article takes an exploratory approach and attempts to draw up a basic profile of the ethical rules applicable to collective negotiations in Quebec. It begins by describing the Quebec regulations applicable to ethics in collective negotiations, and goes on to present a survey of past research on the subject, showing that most authors have tended to present ways of negotiating “ethically” (among other things by applying an interest-based negotiation method) or criticisms of certain negotiation tactics (including bluffing), based on either a legal or an ethical standpoint. However, the studies taking the latter standpoint reached different conclusions, in that a given tactic was considered ethical in some cases and unethical in others. Very few of the studies were based on empirical research, and of the handful of empirical studies that were carried out, almost all involved a student population. None involved collective agreement practitioners.

The research presented in this article attempts to fill this gap in the specialist literature by gathering the views of front-line players in the collective negotiation process. It compiles all the implicitly expected or implicitly unacceptable behaviours mentioned in interviews with twenty people (ten men and ten women) working as spokespeople in one of Quebec’s largest trade union organizations. The rules of ethics were compiled by reviewing each of the subsystems underlying the collective negotiation process identified by Walton, Cutcher-Gershenfeld and McKersie (1994), namely negotiation of the distributive and integrative content, structuring of inter-group attitudes, and management of internal differences. In addition to a list of the rules of ethics mentioned by research subjects, the compilation also includes a statement of each rule, together with verbatim examples from the interviews.

The results of the literature survey show that certain aspects of collective negotiation, such as the management of internal differences, have been neglected by researchers. The limitations of the literature on the subject of rules of ethics are also clear. The list proposed in this article comprises no less than 42 rules of ethics, including keeping one’s word and honesty in negotiations (i.e., no lying or presenting untrue or dishonest documents or facts). In addition, practitioners appear to expect a certain level of professionalism during the collective negotiation process. Interestingly, none of the people questioned felt that bluffing was unacceptable, suggesting that this may, in fact, be an implicitly acceptable behaviour. With regard to the relationship between the parties, the most frequently cited rules were listening to the other party and its representatives, respect for the other party and its representatives, decorum, use of appropriate vocabulary, and refraining from personal attacks and angry exchanges. With regard to relations with principals, the rules of ethics mentioned most frequently were professionalism in dealings with the committee and the people being represented, compliance with and enforcement of the rules governing the right to speak during the distributive phase of the negotiation, and the importance of representing all principals.

In addition, the results show that ethics in collective negotiations go beyond the legal obligations imposed by Quebec, and beyond an interest-based negotiation method.

The article then discusses some of the limitations of the research, including its exploratory nature, the size of the sample and its use of spokespeople from the same party, and goes on to describe its contributions. From a scientific standpoint, although the research cannot claim to present an exact profile of the ethical role of collective negotiators, it is, to the authors’ knowledge, the first study to employ a descriptive analysis approach in the field of collective or organizational negotiation ethics. In addition, it is centered on a sample of collective negotiation practitioners, unlike most previous work on the subject, which has tended to derive from university or laboratory studies involving students. From a more practical standpoint, our preliminary list of the rules of ethics for collective negotiations clearly illustrates the ethical expectations of practitioners, thus contributing to raising general awareness.

The article ends by pointing out that practitioners do not all share the same view of ethics in collective negotiations, and the article then proposes a number of avenues for future research that would lead to a deeper understanding of the topic.


La ética en negociación colectiva: percepción de los consejeros sindicales quebequenses

La literatura especializada es poco locuaz a propósito de las reglas de ética específicamente aplicables en el proceso de negociación colectiva. Este artículo intenta establecer un primer balance de estas reglas. Basado en entrevistas con profesionales que laboran como voceros sindicales en este campo, este primer inventario indica que los escritos actuales descuidan ciertas facetas de la negociación colectiva. Los resultados destacan además, que la ética en la materia va más allá de la aplicación de un método de negociación basado en los intereses.