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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Facility time for workplace union representatives

Today’s Scotsman is running the latest instalment in a series of attacks on trade union facility time, with a focus on the public sector. It follows on from similar stories in the Telegraph, Daily Mail etc and a range of Freedom of Information requests from the so called Tax Payers Alliance. In fairness to the Scotsman, today's article is at least a more balanced presentation of the issue.

The ConDem coalition has not as yet announced a detailed attack on facility time as part of their broader undermining of employment rights (see my blog post last week on fairness in employment). However, another shadowy right wing group the Trade Union Reform Campaign, set up by Tory MP Aidan Burley, has denounced facility time in the public sector as a “public subsidy” of unions. The Prime Minister endorsed the attack on facility time in the House of Commons after the November 30 strike, saying, “I don’t think that is right and we are going to put that to an end.” Francis Maude has announced a review of facility time in the civil service.

The last UK Labour Government conducted a review of facility time and published a series of recommendations including positive examples of the effective role of workplace representatives. This led to a revised ACAS Code of Practice in January 2010. So the law and practice has been recently reviewed. The arrangements were launched with support right across the public and private sectors, as well from trade unions and employer organisations.

The TUC has produced a rebuttal to the latest attacks in their publication The Facts about Facility Time. Some key statistics include:

• Overall productivity gains worth between £4bn to 12bn to the UK economy;

• Savings of at least £19 million as a result of reducing dismissals;

• Savings to employers of between £82m - £143m in recruitment by reducing early exits.

• UK GDP value of the work of ULRs in encouraging training is estimated at £6 billion.

UNISON has also produced a guide to facility time. This sets out the statutory entitlements and the key service group agreements as well an explanation of what facility times is used for.
Local reps help to sort out problems before they become serious. Reps with sufficient time will be able to tackle grievances or disputes at a local level before they mushroom. This will often save time and money by preventing the need for cases to go to a higher level of management or Employment Tribunal.

Union reps make a big contribution to the management of change. Large scale reorganisation, major new agreements or changes to legislation put big burdens on HR departments. Working with a team of skilled union reps can ease the workload and improve the results. Union reps can facilitate change by explaining the procedure, supporting members and ensuring that the process is carried out correctly. Facility time assists the employer in fulfilling their legal responsibilities towards employees; providing support and representation to individuals and as a mechanism

Most employer organisations are on record as supporting the role of the workplace representative and appropriate facility time. But that won’t stop ideology getting in the way of the facts.

PS. The Morning Star has a report this morning (25 January) on the Tory Trade Union Reform Group meeting with Eric Pickles. 

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