Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Quick notes on trade union facility time

A particular favourite line of attack on organised workers comes to the fore in today's Daily Mail. Namely, it is the allegation that the taxpayer is "footing the bill" for all those rabble-rousing trade unionists who do nothing but cause disruption for the fun of it. If you're not outraged enough to demand the abolition of all employment rights, you just might be a commie yourself.

According to the Mail;
Ken Clarke’s Whitehall department has been accused of wasting nearly £6million last year subsidising trade union activity.

The Ministry of Justice is so short of funding it is slashing prison places, but figures have revealed there are dozens of taxpayer funded full-time union officials embedded in the court service, tribunals and prisons.

The data was released under Freedom of Information laws to Tory MP Dominic Rabb.

He said it was a ‘scandal’ that taxpayers fund the trade union duties of public sector workers.

Mr Raab also discovered that, despite the acute pressure accompanying the Strategic Defence Review, the Ministry of Defence has footed a bill for union work that tops £4million.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spent more than £1million last year, with the Rural Payments Agency funding 89 staff to work on union business.

Transport for London – which is often hit by strikes – pays more than 400 staff to work on union duties.

Mr Rabb said the MoJ was the biggest subsidiser of the unions in Whitehall.

He added: 'Taxpayers expect their money spent on providing prison cells – not squandered. It is a basic issue of priorities.' 
Except that, contrary to Rabb, it's a basic issue of employment rights. If you cared to look, you could no doubt find similar costs for union reps in the private sector, albeit smaller because of the reduced union density. Rather than being some kind of cosseted deal for public sector workers, facility time (as it's known) is actually a legal right for all reps of a recognised trade union.

As the ACAS code of practice on facilities (PDF) explains;
Union representatives have had a statutory right to reasonable paid time off from employment to carry out trade union duties and to undertake trade union training since the Employment Protection Act 1975. Union representatives and members were also given a statutory right to reasonable unpaid time off when taking part in trade union activities. Union duties must relate to matters covered by collective bargaining agreements between employers and trade unions and relate to the union representative’s own employer, unless agreed otherwise in circumstances of multi-employer bargaining, and not, for example, to any associated employer. All the time off provisions were brought together in sections 168 – 170 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Section 43 of the Employment Act 2002 added a new right for Union Learning Representatives to take paid time off during working hours to undertake their duties and to undertake relevant training. The rights to time off for the purpose of carrying out trade union duties, and to take time off for training, were extended to union representatives engaged in duties related to redundancies under Section 188 of the amended 1992 Act and to duties relating to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006.
Moreover, as regards the "squandering" of money, the reality is somewhat different;
A report published by the then BERR (now BIS) in 2007  found that union reps in the public sector contribute up to 100,000 hours of their OWN TIME each week to carry out union duties; time that directly benefits public services and those who work in them.  TUC research has estimated that almost one quarter of union reps have to use their own time to carry out their union duties and almost 10 per cent of reps get no paid time of at all.

Even though its clear that employers don’t pay for all of the time that union reps put into supporting their member they certainly benefit significantly. Once again Government research in 2007 found that union reps in the public sector SAVE the taxpayer between £167m and £397m every year by helping to resolve disputes, increasing the take up of training and reducing staff turnover.

Taking in to account reps in both the public and private sector, workplace union reps reduce dismissals creating a benefit to employers’ worth between £107m and £213m and reduce voluntary exits that benefit employers to the tune of between £72m and £143m.  Union Learning Reps are worth between £94m and £156m to employers in enhanced productivity.
It shouldn't be all that hard to see that, in attacking facility time, those such as Dominic Raab aren't concerned with costs. They're concerned with the threat that an organised workforce poses, particularly in the context of austerity and a deepening sense of discontent and alienation. This kind of disinformation needs to be challenged - so that we can continue to organise and expand that threat.