Richard Arthur discusses the rights of union officials to carry out union duties during work time
Union officials have the right to reasonable paid time off to carry out trade union duties or undergo training - see sections 168 and 169 Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 and the ACAS Code of Practice.
Trade union ‘duties’ as an ‘Official’
Duties must be concerned with:
- negotiations regarding collective bargaining matters;
- performance of functions on behalf of employees related to collective bargaining;
- collective information and consultation under collective redundancies legislation and TUPE (and ‘relevant insolvency proceedings’ under TUPE).
The ACAS Code gives the following examples of duties under (i):
- preparing for negotiations, including attending relevant meetings;
- informing members of progress and outcomes;
- preparing for meetings with employer about matters for which the union has only representational (as opposed to negotiating) rights.
It’s important to establish whether an Official is entitled to take part in a committee or other meeting as part of their duties as an Official. If they are, they may be entitled to paid time off.
An Official attending a union meeting to consider proposals for strike action may amount to the performance of a union ‘duty’. However, refusal to grant paid time off to plan industrial action may be regarded as reasonable.
Training and newly appointed Officials
Officials are entitled to paid time off to undergo training in collective bargaining matters relevant to their duties. The Code provides that relevant factors include:
- collective bargaining arrangements at work;
- the union’s structure;
- the Official’s structure; and
- handling any proposed collective redundancies or TUPE transfers.
The Code provides that employers should consider allowing new Officials reasonable time off for training in basic representational skills as soon as possible.
‘Reasonable’ time off
The right is to reasonable time off during ‘working hours’. Under TULRCA, the amount of permitted time off, the purpose for it, the occasions on which it may be taken and any other conditions are those that are ‘reasonable in all the circumstances’, having regard to the ACAS Code of Practice. These criteria may be negotiated in a Facilities Agreement.
The Code provides that the union should have regard to the:
- size of employer and workforce;
- delivery process for the service;
- need to maintain delivery of the service;
- need for health and safety.
Employers should have regard to issues the union will face such as:
- shift patterns;
- those employed at dispersed work locations;
- workers with particular domestic commitments, including those on leave for maternity, paternity or care responsibilities.
The Code directs Officials to provide management with as much notice as ‘practically possible’ as to the purpose of the time off, the intended location, duties to be carried out and the timing and duration of the request.
If the Official’s ordinary pay doesn’t vary with the amount of work done, they’re paid as if they had worked the time off. If their pay does vary according to hours worked, they are entitled to average hourly earnings for the time off.
The Code suggests that Facilities Agreements should specify the:
- amount of time off permitted;
- occasions on which it can be taken;
- arrangements for taking time off at short notice;
- circumstances when time off will be paid;
- how pay is calculated;
- Officials for whom time off will be paid;
- other facilities to be provided;
- confidentiality arrangements and rules on data use;
- role of line managers;
- procedure for requesting time off;
- procedure for resolving grievances.
The content of any Facilities Agreement does not curtail an Official’s statutory rights.