Trade union facility time and facilities are the time and resources (access to ICT and accommodation etc.) that unions negotiate from employers so that they are able to represent members both individually and collectively in negotiations with managers.
Union representatives have had a statutory right to reasonable paid time off to carry out trade union duties since 1975, and most of the current provisions come under the Trade Unions and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, introduced by the then Conservative government. Guidance on the practical application of these provisions is provided in the recently revised ACAS Code of Practice ‘Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities’.
Over the last 12 months there has been increased interest from sections of the media, organisations such as the Taxpayers Alliance and Conservative MPs in the cost to employers of providing paid time off to union representatives.
There have been negatively couched press stories, requests under the Freedom of Information Act to find out the cost to public sector employers of such facilities and Parliamentary questions. The accompanying narrative has been that facility time is a costly burden to employers with no business benefit.
Matters came to a head at this year’s Conservative party conference. Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government described “tax-payer funded2 union officials as a “non-job” and Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, announced that the Government intended to address the number of union reps in the civil service on full time release to perform union duties. Mr Maude said;
“The support they get from the taxpayer has got way out of hand," he told the conference. We can't go on like this.
"I'm announcing today that we're consulting on limiting the time civil servants can spend on trade union work, and on ending the employment of full-time union officials at the taxpayer's expense."
This paper shows the reality of the provision of facilities and facility time for union reps; that they cannot be simply be regarded as ‘costs’ to employers, that on the contrary, union reps and the work that they do for members and with employers represent an important workplace resource for UK employers in both the public and private sector.