Effectively following instructions from Francis Maude, civil service departments have cut the “facility” time (paid time off from work to carry out trade union duties) for civil service union reps to 0.6% of the total wage bill in the last month or two.
The 0.6% limit is an utterly arbitrary figure, drawn up without genuine consultation with unions and without measurement of the actual duties being undertaken by reps. It is supposed to cover health and safety duties, individual case work, collective bargaining, learning representatives, and transfers of functions and staff out of and across the civil service.
The 0.6% limit was also drawn up without any genuine regard for the statutory duties of employers. For example, H&S representatives are legally entitled to whatever time is necessary for them to perform their duties effectively, and cannot be restricted by a 0.6% limit on all trade union and health and safety duties.
In fact, the Tories know full well that one of the major drivers for facility time in the civil service is their divide-and-rule policy of carving up employees in a single “industry” into a huge number of so-called delegated bargaining units — allowed to draw up their own terms and conditions of employment, but within tightly and centrally (Cabinet Office/Treasury) determined remits.
Each of these bargaining units requires a largely faux consultation process that in turn requires representatives of the recognised unions to be granted facility time to negotiate.
However, the Tories neither want genuine negotiations nor effective trade unions: part of the facility time cut is a bar on civil service trade union representatives from taking any paid time off for recruitment and basic organising. In some areas representatives are even barred from approaching staff at their workplace to ask them to join a union. Swathes of delegates to this year’s PCS conference were banned from attendance unless they took annual leave.
In the Department for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles has reduced facility time to just 0.04% of the pay bill.
This is the equivalent of one full-time employee. This amount is supposed to allow three trade unions to cover all delegated collective bargaining, health and safety, case work, and learning representation. Pickles has recommended a similar approach to local authorities.
Serious reps will do whatever it takes to keep organising, recruiting, and representing members.
We will all need to insist on proper time off for union duties and union organising, and seek legal challenge wherever possible.
Unions need to obtain a clear commitment from the Labour Party to restore proper rights to trade union representatives in the civil service. Labour must commit to strengthening the legal rights of trade unions. Years of TUC complacency have not simply resulted in the survival of the anti-union laws but weak trade union rights even where they exist.
With Pickles advocating councils adopt his anti-union stance, the right-wing leadership of Unison ought to work positively with PCS in demanding positive commitments from Labour, and PCS needs to engage with the Labour Party membership and challenge the Labour leadership in a way that goes beyond simply denouncing it, or holding a token stall at Labour’s annual conference.
More fundamentally, a the delivery of a hard hitting membership fight back for effective trade union representation is inextricably tied up with the PCS leadership pursuing an effective campaign on pay, jobs, terms and conditions — and at present, that is not happening.