New regulations on facility time and ‘check-off’ were introduced to the Westminster Parliament in March 2017. They require employers to calculate spending on facility time from 1 April 2017, and to report it publicly.
Employers are not required to report on the individual unions involved nor on a breakdown of different trade union activities, and they should not name individual reps. However, the Trade Union Act still contains a „reserve‟ power to cap facility time in a public sector body.
The regulations for ‘check-off’ require workplaces to have an agreement in place by 10 March 2018 where trade unions pay a ‘reasonable’ sum for the administrative costs of the scheme if they want to retain it.
Both sets of regulations have changed substantially from the Government’s initial proposals, which were originally intended to force employers to report on the nature of different trade union activities and gave the government central and wide ranging powers to cap each and any trade union activity across whole sectors of public services.
The proposals on check-off originally planned to abolish it altogether.
Facility time reporting requirements
The regulations require public sector employers (except those in Northern Ireland and any devolved public authorities in Wales) to report every financial year on:
- The total number of employees who are union reps;
- The number of full time equivalent reps employed;
- How many TU reps spent 0%, 1-50%, 51-99% and 100% of their time on TU duties;
- The total pay bill and percentage of pay bill spent on facility time (pay bill calculated using gross wages, and employer pension and NI contributions); and
- Time spent on paid TU activities as a percentage of total paid facility time hours. By ‘activities’ (rather than duties), the Government means the definition set out in the Trade Union and Labour Relations
(Consolidation) Act (1992), Clause 17 1 (b), “any activities in relation to which the employee is acting as a representative of the union”.
The first year for which data needs to be published is the financial year just starting – 2017/18.
The data must be published by the end of July following that financial year. So for 2017/18 the reporting deadline is 31 July 2018. The information must be set out on the employer’s website or any annual report.
Individual reps should not be named as part of this reporting process. If it is possible to identify any individual rep and their salary from these figures, the employer must instead use a notional hourly rate which reflects the work ordinarily done by the rep.
- NHS employers.
- Government departments and local authorities, including fire and rescue authorities.
- Schools, academies, FE colleges and universities.
- Police staff.
- Transport for London.
- More than 140 government agencies and other named organisations, including Ofsted, the National Probation Service, the Environment Agency and the Food Standards Agency.
A full list can be found in the regulations:
What’s not required?
Public sector employers do not need to report on:
- The types of reps employed in their workplace (i.e. branch secretaries, health and safety reps, equality reps, union learning reps etc).
- The breakdown of time spent on different union duties or activities.
- How paid time spent on union activities is used.
- Any union facilities other than paid time off (i.e. cost of union offices, internet, telephone lines etc).
- Breakdown of each individual union’s facility time allocation/cost.
Reserve power to cap facility time
UNISON is deeply concerned that the Trade Union Act still gives ministers a reserve power to cap facility time. However, following our campaign, a number of procedures and tests will first have to be met before this can happen:
- Ministers will first need to take into account a range of factors before deciding to cap facilities including the cost of facilities in the particular authorities and the type of the services provided or whether major reorganisations led to a rise in facilities spending.
- Ministers must then write to the employer setting out their concerns.
- Employers must be given at least 12 months to adjust their practices before any cap is imposed.
- Regulations imposing a cap on a particular employer must be debated and voted on in Parliament.