TaxPayers Alliance report only betrays deep ideological antipathy towards unions
The Taxpayers Alliance (the organisation that, let us not forget, is NOT an alliance of ordinary tax payers) report on union facility time at best displays a naivety about the nature of the industrial relations in the UK today and at worst an ideologically based and deeply held antipathy towards trades unions and the entire concept of organised labour.
Like many of the TPA’s ‘reports’ it is heavy on statistics presented as revelations (despite many already being in the public domain) that it then deploys in any way that best serves its ideology. So, in this report we have the present state of the public finances, the proposed cuts in public spending, the role of unions reps and political activities of unions all rolled together and set alongside the costs to public sector organisations – government departments, local authorities, NHS Trusts and government quangos – of the time off given to union reps to represent members and negotiate with management.
As is usual with the TPA, it’s a somewhat one-sided report and the costs of facility time are based on calculations of costs that, to be fair, I’ll describe as having been rounded up somewhat. So, they will gladly tell you that the cost of union facility time to Hammersmith and Fulham Council is just short of £200,000 per year – but won’t mention that this represents an incredibly small proportion of that local authority’s total expenditure, which annually is in the region of £180 million. The same applies to the Ministry of Defence’s facility time bill of £4 million against a total departmental expenditure of £44 BILLION.
And rather than representing a cost and drag on efficiency, the reality of course is quite different – unions save employers money. Union reps in private and public sector organisations help make workplaces run more smoothly by sorting out problems before they start to reduce productivity and by challenging managers to do better by communicating better and treating staff well, rather than relying on command and control. Official statistics suggest unions reps save UK employers up to £43 million a year by avoiding the need for employers to fight cases taken to employment tribunals. And the time that union safety reps spend helping employers make workplaces safer and less hazardous places to work help save society as a whole up to £371 million through reducing the number of working days lost to workplace injury and up to £207 million a year by preventing days lost from people becoming ill at work.
An impartial reader, noting the TPA’s call for unions to cover the costs of their own representatives and campaigning work may think this reasonable but would, if they thought this, also probably be unaware of unions having their own (self-funded) full time officers, organisers, policy staff and researchers all of whom support the work of reps (the training of whom training is funded by unions). In addition, they would probably be also unaware of union political funds – funded from member subscriptions – that they are legally obliged to establish (with members consent) for political campaigning.
In its determination to make an ideological point about the ‘activities’ of union reps in respect of political campaigning, the TPA quickly skates past an admission in its report that there is NO OBLIGATION for employers to give union reps PAID time off for activities – defined in the ACAS Code of Practice as attending meetings to discuss internal union business, attending workplace meetings to discuss union negotiations with employers, meeting with union officers to discuss workplace issues, voting in union elections and accessing the services of Union Learning representatives – and instead makes a huge assumption that most reps get time of for activities, and just in case you hadn’t already got their point, they come up with their own much more political definition of what these activities constitute.
And oddly for a report that purports to be about what reps get up to there is no properly researched or referenced mention of what reps actually do. The reality here is that the overwhelming majority of the time taken by most reps is used to represent and advise their colleagues at work and negotiate with their employer. But clearly this doesn’t fit with the TPA’s preconceptions and prejudices. The voice of employers is also absent from the report – quite odd given that I assume that the TPA would regard itself as a friend of employers. Is this because only last year the CBI joined with the TUC and BIS to publish a report – Reps in Action – on the role of union reps that “modern [union] representatives have a lot to give their fellow employees and to the organisations that employ them”?