Following a recent consultation, the Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, has announced reforms restricting the amount of time civil servants can spend on trade union work.
The press release announcing the reforms claims that some civil servants have spent 100 per cent of their time at work doing trade union work. The Government intends that the reforms will result in civil servants who are trade union representatives spending at least 50 per cent of working hours fulfilling their civil service role.
Union representatives of an independent trade union which is recognised by the employer, have a statutory right to paid time off from employment to carry out trade union duties. Union representatives and members of an independent trade union which is recognised by the employer also have a statutory right to reasonable unpaid time off when taking part in trade union activities. These rights to time off are known as "facility time".
The Government has stated that it does not seek to alter the right to time off for trade union duties and activities that is currently enshrined in legislation, but to both to rebalance the amount of paid time off provided to undertake trade union duties, and to review the level, frequency and cost of providing paid time off for trade union activities.
As well as requiring trade union representatives to spend 50 per cent of their time on their day job, the changes also include the following:
  • Where a representative wishes to spend more than 50 per cent of their time on union work, this will need to be agreed by their Secretary of State or Chief Executive and will be limited to no more than three years.
  • Any representative who has spent 100 per cent of their time on union work for at least three years will be able to continue to do so for one more year.
  • The default position will be that paid time off work is not granted for trade union activities. Departments wishing to provide paid time off will need authorisation from the Secretary of State or Chief Executive.
  • Quarterly reports and accounts detailing budget expenditure will need to be provided to the Cabinet by Government departments.
  • In-house guidance on best practice, and how and when to devote time to trade union work will be made available to line managers and union representatives.
  • A guidance figure for the proportion of the paybill spent on facility time will be introduced, of no more than 0.1 per cent of each department’s pay bill, to include all facility time, time off for Health and Safety representatives and time off for Union Learning representatives. Authorisation from the Secretary of State will have to be sought for any spend over this figure.

These changes are said to result in savings of approximately £15 million a year.

Unsurprisingly, Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), has stated that the PCS intends to resist the implementation as he sees the changes as part of a "sustained and calculated plan to shift the balance of power even further away from employees to employers".