Government takes a swipe at Safety Representatives
The Trade Union Bill is a particular worrying Bill with implications for anyone at work. There have been lots of really good blogs on this site about it so I am not going to repeat these. I just want to point out what the Bill could do to undermine union health and safety representatives.
There are two proposals contained in the Bill that have received very little attention. Both of those relate to “Facility Time” in the public sector, which is the amount of time given to workplace representatives to represent their members and undertake union duties or activities.
In the case of health and safety representatives of course, there is a legal duty on the employer to give them as much paid time off as they need to undertake their activities as a union health and safety representative. That is laid down in regulation. It is absolute. The regulations do not say that the employer can decide to restrict this time. If a representative needs it, they need it, and it will vary from week to week.
The Trade Union Bill does two things. Firstly it says that any public sector employer who has at least one union health and safety representative, will have to record and publish all the time taken and any facilities provided. This is bureaucratic, pointless and will just mean that both employers and union representatives will have to spend a lot of time on paperwork.
However, even more dangerous, is the proposal to allow ministers to restrict the rights to time off given to union health and safety representatives by amending the Health and Safety at Work Act. All they have to do is introduce new regulations. This is a really vindictive proposal, and of course an underhand one- sneaking in the right to make changes by Statutory Instrument into a much wider Bill.
The current time off regulations are clear and simple and apply to all workplaces where there is a recognised union. The Government now seeks permission to tear these up in the public sector. Of course, even if the Bill did become law they could not do it entirely, as European Legislation states clearly that employers have to allow health and safety representatives “adequate time off work, without loss of pay” to exercise their rights and functions. However, they may well try to reduce some of the current requirements that are laid down in the 1977 Regulations (Brown Book).
At no time have the Government given any justification for this proposal. As our report “The Union Effect” shows, union health and safety representatives save hundreds of lives and prevent tens of thousands of injuries and illnesses. Workplaces with union representatives and a joint safety committee have half the serious injury rate of those without. Any reasonable employer welcomes the presence of health and safety representatives, including most in the public sector. That is why this move makes absolutely no sense from a regulatory point of view. It will not save money or remove bureaucracy, nor will it improve safety. It is simply an ideologically-led knee-jerk reaction.
Of course, as Frances O’Grady has pointed out in her blog, there are many other parts of the Bill that will restrict our ability to support and represent our members both in the workplace and through effective campaigning. We need to make sure that we are talking to our members (and potential members) about the massive contribution that unions make on issues such as health and safety and expose this Bill for what it is – an attack on the ability of working people to protect themselves at work. The TUC will be producing a range of briefings and other resources to help you with this in the coming months.