From the TUC

#TUbill threat to union safety reps is still there

15 Mar 2016, By

Amongst its many highly controversial measures, the Trade Union Bill includes a provision to allow the Government to restrict access to facility time for trade union safety representatives in the public sector. Here is a quick reminder of why it is wrong, potentially unlawful and dangerous.

Health and safety representatives’ time is not facility time

Facility time is time off from an individual’s job, granted by the employer, to enable a representative to carry out their trade union role. A safety representative, although appointed by a union, does not just fulfil a trade union role. It is a specific legal position with defined functions. The regulations state that they represent ALL workers in a workplace, not just union members.

Paid time off is a requirement under EU law

The 1989 EU Framework Directive specifically states: “Employers must allow workers’ representatives with specific responsibility for the safety and health of workers adequate time off work, without loss of pay, and provide them with the necessary means to enable such representatives to exercise their rights and functions deriving from this Directive.” There is no limit on this but the UK regulations talk about “as shall be necessary”. What time off is necessary will vary from workplace to workplace and from time to time.

The Bill will affect union reps but not non-union reps

The Bill only applies to trade union representatives. There are also a small number of non-union safety reps in the public sector where that employer doesn’t recognise a trade union. The Bill refers to restricting the right of relevant union officials by modifying regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Act. However there are two sets of regulations covering workplace representatives. The 1977 regulations only apply to trade union representatives while we also have the 1996 regulations which apply to representatives of workplace safety in non-unionised workplaces. Both union reps and non-union reps have the right to paid time off to perform their functions. If the Bill is passed, the Government will be able to restrict the time off given to trade union representatives in the public sector, but not to non-trade union ones. Ironically the 1996 regulations were forced on the Government by the European Commission who said that the UK Government was not complying with the European Framework Directive in respect of non-unionised workplaces (to make them match unionised ones). Now we have the Government restricting these very same regulations as they apply to unionised workplaces.

The implications of aggregating all trade union reps’ time

The Government has said “We simply want to ensure that the time that trade union reps collectively spend on union duties and activities during working hours at taxpayers’ expense is justifiable and accountable and that it represents value for money.” This implies that, even if they do not specifically restrict the number of hours an individual health and safety rep can spend, public sector employers will have an aggregated amount of facility time and that unions will have to decide on how it is used. Health and Safety reps’ functions are extremely variable and they may find that, if an unusual situation arises such as a fatality or the introduction of new safety systems, they are limited to an inappropriate, and potentially unlawful, cap.

There is no doubt that trade union health and safety representatives make a massive difference. The TUC has produced evidence that they save the economy the equivalent of £130m-£360m in the public sector alone through reduced injury and ill-health.

What kind of message is the Government giving by even thinking of trying to restrict this? We still have a chance to defeat this attack on trade union health and safety representatives and, hopefully, all union representatives.