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Consultation on support for workers’ reps launched

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The government has launched a consultation on the support workers’ representatives receive in the workplace.

The move follows a review into the facilities and facility time available to workplace representatives, it found there are at least 15 pieces of legislation covering the various types of worker representative.

Some representatives have statutory entitlements while others, particularly non-recognised union and non-union representatives have none – and the nature of the right depends on the legislation that confers it.

For instance, the report says: “The three categories of safety representative each have rights to such time off ‘as is necessary’ to carry out their functions. In contrast, most other representatives have rights to ‘reasonable’ time off to carry out their functions.

“There are also differences in the wording used to specify where representatives may make a complaint to the employment tribunal for a failure to provide time off.

“In the case of an alleged failure to provide time off for shop stewards, ULRs, and safety representatives, the law provides that ‘an employee may present a complaint to an employment tribunal that his employer has failed to permit him’ to take time off or
undertake training.

“As regards collective redundancy and TUPE representatives, I&C representatives, transnational I&C representatives, and some other categories, the law specifies that ‘an employee may present a complaint to an employment tribunal that his employer has unreasonably refused to permit him’ to take time off for his duties.”

Although there is guidance on working with workplace representatives available, the report says it should be updated and made available via a single source.

The report also says that the DTI estimates that workplace representatives bring an identifiable range of benefits worth £476 million to £1,133 million annually, plus possible gains from increased productivity.

It estimates the costs to their employers of providing paid time off and facilities ranges between £407 million to £430.4 million annually.

While most reps have office facilities available, not all have computer access and the government fears this may result in two-tier representation.

Computer access is thought to be one of the reasons some representatives do much of their work from home. The report reveals that reps spend large amounts of their own time – estimated at £115 million annually – on their duties.

But it’s not the only factor. According to the report: “Many union sources argue that representatives are under increasing pressure and are failing to take sufficient time off at work to undertake their functions effectively. In particular, the absence of cover, the negative attitude of middle managers and the increasing pressures on representatives to service their members off-site or on complex issues are cited as
problem areas.”

The TUC has welcomed the consultation, which closes on 29 March. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “In workplaces which have trade unions, the overwhelming majority of employers are supportive of union reps and give them time off to carry out their union duties or for relevant training.

“But a minority of employers offer the union reps in their workplace no support at all, and in some cases attempt to victimise and harass any employees who volunteer for union work.

“This review is going to be welcomed by all those union reps unfortunate enough to have unsupportive employers, and who currently end up doing much of their union work in their own time.”

The review, which is in PDF form, can be found here.

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