The value of unions to the UK economy

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date: 24 January 2012

embargo: For immediate release

The presence of unions in workplaces could be saving employers in the private and public sectors as much £701m a year or £2m a day, according to a report published today (Tuesday) by the TUC.

The report Facility Time for Union Reps: Separating fact from fiction, says that in workplaces where there are union reps negotiating with employers on behalf of their colleagues, there are significant cost savings to be had. These come in the form of more productive, and better trained, workforces, safer workplaces, fewer cases taken to employment tribunal - so as staff tend to stay in post for longer, less is spent on recruitment and retention.

Written by Gregor Gall, Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Hertfordshire, the report demonstrates the value of union reps to the UK economy, not only helping improve workplace conditions but also enabling private and public sector employers to keep costs down, and so deliver huge savings to the taxpayer.

The report notes that the government is coming under pressure from right-wing backbench MPs and associated groups who want ministers to limit the amount of time reps can spend improving workplace conditions and negotiating with employers.

The TUC report says that a good deal of the work of union reps takes place in their own time - 16 per cent of union reps said that less than a quarter of the time they spent on union work was paid for by their employer. And it calculates that for every £1 spent on union facility time in the public sector, between £3 and £9 is returned in accrued benefits.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The highly exaggerated and wholly inaccurate figures being bandied around by groups and individuals on the right as to the cost of unions in the public sector are supposedly borne out of a desire to save money. In reality they are nothing more than a thinly-veiled attack on unions and their ability to represent workers across the public sector.

'Yet our research shows that there are huge benefits to employers - in both the public and private sectors - to be had as a result of the funding of facility time for union reps. Successive governments have recognised the moral, legal and economic case for supporting workplace reps - ministers would be wise to do likewise and avoid what appear to be ideologically-driven announcements designed to appease right wing backbenchers.'

An appendix to Facility Time for Union Reps: Separating fact from fiction contains contributions from a number of employers in the public sector who talk positively of the paid time off given to union reps and the benefits this brings to their organisations - improving workforce skills, advising on workplace safety, resolving at an early stage problems that occur at work, offering ideas on how to improve ways of working or trying to minimise the impact of spending cuts:

  • Liz Chandler, Merseytravel's Director of Corporate Development, said: 'We greatly value the contribution made by union reps and the relationship that managers have with them. Management and reps have worked together on improving the skills of our workforce, significantly improving the professional profile of the workforce as well as the life skills of the individuals involved. This has helped make our organisation a safer place to work and created a culture in which management and unions work together productively to meet the challenges we face. We regard the cost of paid time off as an investment on which the organisation has had a significant return, reducing sickness and grievances, supporting succession planning and improvements to customer care.'
  • Ian Jerams, Chief Operating Officer, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, said: 'Effective and efficient services require a workforce that is supported to deliver their very best. The provision of facility time for staff reps and stewards helps to ensure the timely availability of representation, leading to the early resolution of staffing issues and ultimately to better outcomes for the workforce, employers and for the people benefiting from the service.'
  • Barry Rowland, Chief Executive, Newcastle City Council, said: 'Newcastle City Council has sustained excellent industrial relations through an extended period of unprecedented change. The full support of unions and the involvement of workers from across the organisation has been instrumental in helping us achieve budget savings of £44m in the current financial year and to develop proposals to save a further £30m next year. Many of these proposals arise from the innovation and ideas of our staff, and the contribution of union workplace reps has been an important part of that success.'

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- Facility Time for Union Reps: Separating fact from fiction also contains case studies from a number ofunion reps from across the public sector. The facility time available to the reps varies, yet all talk of union work that takes place in their own time, and of good working relationships with employers, despite often having to deal with difficult issues:

- Carole Horstead works four days a week, two as head of Spanish at Virgo Fidelis Convent Senior School in Croydon and is branch secretary for the ATL in the London borough for the other two, though says her union work - Carole's also the workplace rep and a learning rep - often takes up much of her own time. Carole has taught at the 800-pupil school for the last 13 years, and says she has a very good working relationship with the head, who often comes to her for advice. Her union work includes running training events for members working in Croydon and in the surrounding London boroughs, meeting officers and councillors about changes affecting schools still linked to the local council, giving advice to members being made redundant or facing a disciplinary, consulting over changes to pensions, or advising teachers concerned about the implications of their school becoming an academy.

- Steve Gallin is a union rep for Community and works for PLUSS, a UK-wide organisation owned by a number of local authorities which not only employs people with disabilities across its many factories, but also offers training and help to unemployed disabled people looking for work. Steve is based at the company's Exeter office and says that the PLUSS HR department is very flexible when it comes to him needing to take time out from his job as a supervisor at the firm to represent the 160 or so Community members who work for PLUSS across the South West. As a result of government cuts in spending, many local councils are currently either cutting back on, or ending completely, their funding of PLUSS and so much of Steve's work at the moment is supporting those workers affected by redundancy as some of the factories are forced to close or lay off staff. Steve has worked at PLUSS for over 25 years, has been a rep for the last 15, and says that he has a good working relationship with the company's managers, a factor which helps when they are having to deal with difficult issues.

- Angela Rayner is a full-time Unison rep at Stockport Council. She is the branch secretary and spends her working day (and a good deal of her own time) negotiating with senior council officers and councillors on behalf of some 4,000 Unison members. Her days are busy and varied and include discussions over pay and conditions, the market testing of council services, trying to lessen the impact of government spending cuts on council-run services, its staff and the local community, and advising the council on equality and employment matters. She also supports union members who are being made redundant, or facing a disciplinary, or who have raised whistleblower-style concerns. She combines all this with raising three children, is a school governor, a signer for deaf people, and in the remaining free time she has, Angela occasionally runs for charity. She sees herself as the council's critical friend - someone who is there to remind senior officers and councillors to consider the impact of council policies upon employees and the wider community. Angela was once a home help, but has been a full-time union rep for nine years.

- Helen Kenny is a full-time Prospect rep working for the Forensic Science Service (FSS) in London. Since the government announced the closure of the Service in 2010, Helen's main role has been negotiating with HR securing decent redundancy terms for the thousand or so staff affected, as well as being involved in the TUPE arrangements being put in place for scientists being transferred across to the Metropolitan Police. Several years ago Helen was heavily involved in the transformation process in 2009 - after the FSS went from being part of the civil service to a government-owned company - which ultimately lead to the closure of three FSS sites. Helen says the transformation process was one of the biggest pieces of work she's ever been involved because it covered negotiations around changes to pensions, redundancies across the three sites affected, changes to terms and conditions, and a whole new look at the way in which the Service worked. She sees her role as trying to secure the best possible deal for members from what is ultimately a very depressing situation, and advising the Service's management on the best ways of achieving this.

- Facility Time for Union Reps: Separating fact from fiction is available at is http://www.tuc.org.uk/tucfiles/206/FacilityTimeSeparatingFactfromFiction.pdf

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

Contacts:

Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: media@tuc.org.uk
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Elly Gibson T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: egibson@tuc.org.uk

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