Facility Time for unions ultimately saves money


I wish to clarify matters regarding Trade Union Facility Time which is in danger of being misunderstood by the public (especially those not in a union) by a deliberate campaign of misinformation by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, a noisy lobby group whose funding is as opaque as its ‘research’ is shoddy (and represent no taxpayers I know).

Facility Time is the legal right to get “reasonable” time off work to do certain activities on behalf of their union, without having their pay docked.

These include negotiating with employers over pay and conditions; representing workers in grievance and disciplinary procedures; providing training; doing health and safety work and attending training sessions to assist their duties.

There is no legal right for a union activist to get paid while he or she takes time off to vote in a strike ballot or attend a political rally.

And as well as the hypothetical cost of this time spent away from the desk, there is a notional benefit to the employer.

There would be a lot more expensive employment tribunals, for example, if union reps weren’t there to help negotiate internal settlements.

Additionally, the NI Executive has recognised the unique contribution Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) make to its Essential Skills strategy; improving standards of Numeracy, Literacy and ICT. The work these ULRs do – from encouraging a culture of learning, to organising workplace classes and recruiting their co-workers to attend and improve their skills and careers – is all done on Facility Time.

All of the above activities actually save employers money. Real research, by the UK government in 2007, found trade union facility time resulted in:

• £22m-£43m savings for employers and the Treasury from reducing the number of Employment Tribunal cases;

• £136m-£371m benefits to society through reducing working days lost due to workplace injury;

• £45m-£207m benefits to society as a result of reducing work related illness.

Using the same methodology as the 2007 UK government report, NIC-ICTU found that the total benefit to the NI economy is between £14.24 million and £37.44 million per annum.

Of this, the benefit to the public sector (the main concern of the TPA) is between £8.19 million and £21.53 million.

We conducted that research in 2011, the last time this story was aired, with the same shallow ‘research’ reported with the same credulity by a newspaper which ought to know better.

Peter Bunting, Assistant general secretary, NI Committee, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Belfast