Pickles tells councils to limit costs of workers’ union duties

1 Mar 13
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has urged councils to cut back on the support they give to their employees to undertake trade union work.

By Richard Johnstone | 1 March 2013

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has urged councils to cut back on the support they give to their employees to undertake trade union work.

Publishing advice to local authorities today, Pickles said the town hall workforce pay bill amounts to nearly half of all council spending and should be monitored to ensure value for local taxpayers. This means that facility time payments ­– when staff members are paid by their employer during time off to carry out trade union work and activities – should be reduced as they represent ‘poor value for money’, he said.

‘I believe that trade unions continue to play an important and constructive role in the modern workplace,’ he said. ‘But for too long in the public sector, trade unions have received taxpayer funding that is poor value for money and inadequately controlled. Reducing such public subsidies to trade unions is a practical way that councils can save money, to keep council tax down and protect frontline services for local residents - including union members themselves.

Each local authority is an individual employer in its own right and it is for councils and fire and rescue authorities to make local decisions on how they manage their workforces.

However, Pickles highlighted that facility time was being reduced in the civil service following the introduction of a requirement for Whitehall departments and agencies to publish annual details of the arrangements. This aims to get the proportion of the pay bill spent on facility time down from the estimated 0.14% in the public sector to close to the 0.04% in private employers.

The advice published by the Department for Communities and Local Government outlines changes that should be made to ‘significantly’ scale back the use of facility time in town halls.

As well as providing details of the level of facility time payments to trade unions, councils should limit it to a set percentage of their pay bill. They should also stop employees from spending the majority of their working hours on trade union duties. Time off for trade union activities should be unpaid, and restrictions placed on the use of office facilities for trade union representatives.

Councillors should declare payments and sponsorship from trade unions and ensure there is no conflict of interest, Pickles added. ‘Trade union activities and campaigning in local councils should be funded by members’ subscriptions, not bankrolled by the taxpayer.’

However, the GMB union said Pickles’ advice was a ‘disgraceful’ attack on working people.

National secretary for public services Brian Strutton said: ‘Eric Pickles doesn't have a clue what trade union representatives do and he's just lashing out because the Tories are losing the plot.

‘In local authorities these trade union reps are highly valued by employers for the work they do yet the paid time off they get from their job is less than the recent Cabinet Office guidance issued by Francis Maude recommends. These trade union workplace representatives are being insulted by this unjustified attack.’

He added that, according to the government’s Workplace Employment Relations Survey, an estimated 17% of public sector trade union representatives have no facility time at all, compared to just 7% in the private sector.


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