Your rights as a UNISON rep
Stewards are entitled by law to certain arrangements to assist them in doing their job as elected representatives of UNISON members.
These are often called 'facilities' and usually include the right to reasonable time off for undertaking trade union duties and for training.
They also incorporate access to telephones, computers and email systems, access to information, use of notice boards, lockable filing facilities and, in some cases, the use of dedicated office space.
In many cases, stewards will be covered by a written agreement made between their employer and UNISON (and possibly other unions).
This will specify how these legal rights are to apply in practice and is usually known as a Facilities Agreement.
Sometimes UNISON does not have a written agreement with the employer. This is common in cases where the number of employees is small, or if no one has made a formal approach.
However, an accredited steward is legally entitled to facilities whether a written agreement exists or not.
Most legal rights only apply where the employer recognises the union.
Nevertheless, stewards working for employers who do not recognise UNISON have some legal rights which are covered at the end of this chapter.
Much of UNISON's work depends on stewards getting paid time off to carry out union duties, such as talking to members, representing members and meeting with management.
Without paid time off, it would be very difficult for the union to organise and members would lose out.
Stewards and branch officers have the right to time off for trade union duties, training and union activities.
These rights come from the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which sets out the basic rules governing the rights of trade union representatives to paid time off for union duties.
Practical guidance on how the law should apply is laid down by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in their code of practice on Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities.
The law distinguishes between trade union work which should receive paid time off and that which may only be unpaid.
Paid time off should be made available for trade union duties and training.
Trade union duties cover all matters relating to collective bargaining and individual representation.
These include meetings with management, preparation for these meetings, and keeping members informed about negotiations, discussions with management, terms and conditions etc.
The ACAS code stresses the importance of employers giving paid time off for stewards to be trained as soon as possible after they have been elected, for further updating training in specialist areas and where legislative change may affect industrial relations.
Employers should agree to stewards taking unpaid time off to make them available for trade union activities. These include keeping members informed, attending trade union meetings, administration and recruitment.
Some employers will agree to pay stewards for time off for some of these activities because they recognise that this may lead to improved industrial relations.
The ACAS code encourages this.
Often facilities agreements will state when stewards are entitled to paid and unpaid time off and sometimes specify a fixed amount of time that is available each week or month.
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