Public sector bodies failing to control taxpayer-funded trade union time

Published on Thursday, 06 September 2012 11:25
Posted by Scott Buckler

On the eve of the 2012 Trades Union Congress, the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) has today published a new legal briefing - by barrister Francis Hoar, a member of Field Court Chambers in Gray's Inn - examining facility time in the public sector, which finds that "many public sector employers have not approached 'facility' time in the manner envisaged by industrial relations law"

The TPA has campaigned to expose the enormous scale of facility time in the public sector, arguing that it is a wasteful subsidy to the trade unions. Published to coincide with the close of the Cabinet Office's consultation on facility time in the Civil Service, this new briefing suggests that even under current rules many public sector bodies are failing to do what they can to ensure value for money.

The briefing shows that

Paid facility time is only supposed to be allowed for a certain set of trade union duties.Unpaid time is allowed for more widely defined trade union activities.Public sector employees are only entitled to paid or unpaid leave for trade union duties and activities if they have requested it from their employer, and if their request is deemed reasonable.

But many public sector bodies do not seem to be going through the kind of process envisaged by industrial relations law. Based on earlier TaxPayers' Alliance research, the briefing suggests a number of problems with how facility time is currently allocated:

  • There are numerous public sector bodies which do not monitor the amount of facility time they have allowed, which "suggests that public sector organisations fail to approach requests for union 'time off' in the manner envisaged by the legislation and the ACAS Code.  Rather, they appear to delegate to trade unions the employer's right and responsibility to determine the reasonableness of such requests.
  • "Full time trade union officials: "A permanent role for union officials makes it much harder for that employer to exercise its right to refuse permission for the official to do certain tasks;
  • or to consider those tasks before they are completed.  Further, in certain circumstances there may be no activities or duties that a full time union official would have been given permission to perform were requests made on a case by case basis.  Yet employers are effectively bound to grant permission for sufficient tasks to occupy full time union officials, as they have already agreed to pay them full time to undertake union duties."

Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Taxpayers' money shouldn't be wasted subsidising trade unions fighting to defend unsustainable spending and expensive pensions, paid for at the expense of far less fortunate workers in the private sector. The leadership in many public sector bodies are failing taxpayers by not properly controlling facility time, when they should be saving money and concentrating resources on the frontline. The Government needs to first ensure that facility time does not go further than it was ever supposed to, paying for huge numbers of full-time union officials. Ministers then need to change the rules and make it very clear that powerful public sector unions should pay for their own activists."

Francis Hoar, barrister at Field Court Chambers, said: "Many public sector employers have not approached union facility time in the manner envisaged by industrial relations law.  Rather than arbitrating over individual requests for time off as the law envisages, many have delegated those responsibilities to full time union officials. Employers have a duty to ensure that their expenditure is adequately accounted for and spread fairly.  Quite apart from their clear legal right to require union members to request permission before taking time off, their duty is not only to their employees but to those receiving – and paying for – their services."

Source: ©Taxpayers Alliance

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