From the TUC

The value of reps

08 Oct 2008, By

Ian Allinson of UNITE has dug out an interesting article here, reporting on Lib-Dem attempts to review facility time and facilities for union reps in Birmingham City Council.

Apparently some of the local councillors are unhappy that union facility time currently costs local taxpayers around £1.4m a year – which sounds a lot, but actually isn’t when you put it into any sort of perspective. Even a local Tory Councillor interviewed for the piece has to concede that less than 1% of the Council’s workforce are covered by these arrangements, and that some reps even (gasp, shock, horror) ‘do a good job’.

Few key points here.

First is that whatever the costs to the local council in supporting facilities and facility time its a fair bet that these are more than outweighed by the very real (and quantifable) benefits that union reps bring not just to their members, but to the employer as well. Figures in a recent BERR (Peter Mandelson’s new stomping ground) consultation document suggest that union reps are worth up to £10.2bn a year, in terms of increased productivity, to the UK economy as a whole. That’s BEFORE you add in other potential cost benefits such as reduced absenteeism and reduced workplace accidents and ill health.

Second key point I’d make is that its the law of the land for union reps to have access to reasonable paid time off to carry out their duties and train. So when Cllr Mullaney asks, ‘..should the council be paying their (union reps) wages?’, the answer is pretty much an unequivocal yes!

Last point is that underpinning these gripes seems to be a sense that local union reps are basically employed union officers who answer to no-one and do little work. While not every local rep or steward is perfect, the overwhelming majority are decent, hardworking people, elected and/or nominated by their fellow union members, to carry out an often difficult and stressful role. Many employers recognise this fact as well…I’m currently working with the CBI and BERR to develop a joint statement setting out the positive contribution of union reps in the workplace.

Cllr Mullaney’s calls for a review appear to be a simple case of union-bashing by the back door. Is this a widespread/growing trend across the public sector? Post any examples in the comments section.