Press release

Civil service union work brought under control

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Cabinet Office is leading a radical overhaul of the arrangements that allow civil servants to undertake trade union work in work hours.

The Cabinet Office is leading a radical overhaul of the arrangements that allow civil servants to undertake trade union work during work hours, the Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude announced today. This will ensure taxpayer money is only spent on appropriate and accountable trade union work that represents value for money.

The reforms announced today will ensure that civil servants who are trade union representatives spend at least 50% of their working hours delivering their civil service role. Any exemptions to this will require specific agreement from their Secretary of State and will be published. Until now, some civil servants have spent 100% of their time on trade union work. These reforms will also introduce rigorous monitoring of how much time is spent on trade union work to ensure taxpayers can hold departments to account.

The new approach set out today will play an important part in reflecting a smaller, pacier civil service that resembles the very best modern employer, matching practice in business and the wider public sector. These changes follow a broad-ranging consultation with trade unions and civil servants over the summer and include:

  • Limiting time spent on union work: trade union representatives will be required to spend at least 50% of their time at work on their civil service job. Any variation to this would need to be signed off specifically by their Secretary of State or Chief Executive and can be for no more than 3 years.
  • A new benchmark to ensure value for money: a guide figure for the proportion of the paybill spent on facility time is being introduced. This will be 0.1% of each department’s paybill in the first year. This will include all facility time, time for Health and Safety representatives and time for Union Learning representatives. For any spend over this benchmark, departments will need agreement from their Secretary of State and must report it to the Cabinet Office in advance.
  • Proper oversight of time spent on trade union work: all departments will introduce a rigorous system to monitor and record how much time is spent on union work and provide the Cabinet Office with quarterly reports. Departments will publish details annually to enable the public to see where their money is being spent and hold government departments to account.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said:

We recognise that trade unions play an important role in the modern workplace and are a part of Britain’s Big Society. But we think trade union facility time arrangements in the Civil Service should reflect those in business and the wider public sector.

For too long there has been insufficient monitoring of union work done by civil servants during their working hours. And some civil servants were able to spend years doing nothing but trade union work. That isn’t fair to the taxpayer or other civil servants.

That’s why we are limiting the amount of time civil servants can spend on trade union work and introducing a benchmark which will slash the cost of facility time to the taxpayer. Any exemptions to these arrangements will be reported for all to see and scrutinise.

Further changes set out today include:

  • clear new guidance for departments to help line managers and representatives manage facility time robustly. This will also ensure consistency between departments
  • stopping people spending their entire Civil Service career on union work. For those individuals who have already held roles in which they spend all their working hours on union work for more than three years, they will only be able to continue to do so for one further year. People who spend all of their time on union work will not be able to continue to do so if they are promoted
  • a default position that paid time off work is not granted for trade union activities

Monitoring and reporting will commence immediately and departments will be expected to adopt these changes in reforming their facility time arrangements. All of the changes announced today will be reviewed one year after they are implemented to assess the progress made and identify areas where further support for departments may be required.

Notes to editors

  1. Facility time is time off during working hours for trade union representatives to carry out trade union work. This is in the form paid time off for trade union duties and paid or unpaid time off for trade union activities.

  2. 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.

  3. The relevant rights are now contained in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRA), Employment Relations Act 1999; and The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977; and are supported by the ACAS Code of Practice on ‘Time off for trade union duties and activities’; and the HSE Code of Practice on ‘Consulting employees on health and safety.’

  4. The consultation on facility time opened on 13 July and ran until 7 September. The original consultation document and the government’s response to it, which has been published today.

  5. The Cabinet Office met with the nationally recognised Civil Service Trade Unions on a number of occasions throughout the consultation period to engage in constructive discussions. Alongside this a total of 565 individual responses were received from civil servants across departments. The consultation response document.

  6. There are at least 6,800 trade union representatives across the Civil Service with an annual estimated cost of £36 million in gross salary. The government recognises that trade unions can play a constructive role contributing to the effective and efficient operation of public services in a modern workplace. Where this operates well it serves the interest both of the union members and the employer well.

  7. This consultation did not seek to change the nature of the duties and activities that can be undertaken by Trade Union representatives during working hours. It sought to review the level, frequency and cost of the provision of facility time to ensure that the time we pay for trade union representatives to spend on duties and activities during working hours is appropriate, accountable and that the value for money is transparent and identifiable.

  8. These changes follow on from the publication of the Civil Service Reform Plan in June which set out a series of specific and practical actions for reform, which, when implemented, will lead to real change for the Civil Service. The Civil Service Reform Plan.