Facility Time

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2013 Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2013

Conference notes the Government’s deplorable attacks on trade union facility time in the public sector, fuelled by lobbying by the Tax Payers’ Alliance and other right-wing organisations. Attacks on the facility time of civil servants have become envied by Eric Pickles as he seeks to mimic and replicate them across local government.

These attacks are having a direct impact on facility time negotiations and are resulting, in some local government branches, in direct reductions in facility time. Conference also notes that this is having a significant impact on branches’ ability to challenge outsourcing, restructures and other public service cuts, as well as having an impact on the resources they have to support and represent our members.

This is despite the proven benefits of good industrial relations, with appropriate facility time to ensure that union representatives have the time to devote to negotiations, consultation and partnership working.

This is particularly true in the local government sector, where the complexity of the range of services provided, and the number of smaller employers, including schools, makes it impossible for union reps to carry out their duties effectively without adequate facility time.

Conference welcomes the work of UNISON and the Trades Union Congress during 2012 in highlighting the importance of facility time and how vital it is to public services, but these cuts continue and some Councils are continuing to listen and act on the views of these right wing organisations.

Conference rejects the principle that facility time is costly and demonstrates no real benefits to the taxpayer. Conference believes that trade union facility time is vital if we are to provide the service our members want and need – particularly as attacks to their pay and conditions increase. Furthermore, Conference believes that facility time represents good value for money and is an excellent use of the public pound. This view is supported by numerous employers, including Conservative and Lib-Dem councils.

TUC research has shown that where facility time is allocated, staff benefit from safer and healthier workplaces. There are also fewer dismissals, lower staff turnover and fewer tribunal cases. In unionised workplaces generally, terms and conditions are better; there is less sexual and racial harassment; less bullying in the workplace and more effective policies and procedures – which benefit both the employers and our members.

However, local government is under attack, with local authorities’ budgets being squeezed by the government’s austerity measures, and there is growing pressure on local government employees to deliver services with fewer staff. This is impacting on the time available and therefore the ability of union activists to represent members, and to recruit and organise effectively.

Women representatives are particularly adversely affected as women still carry the major burden of caring responsibilities in the home. It is therefore crucial that facility time is shared fairly: to ensure that negotiations and consultations include a gender focus; to break down the barriers to other women becoming active; to challenge the stereotype of the traditional trade unionist and to enable women to achieve an acceptable work/union/life balance. This should include encouraging branches to open up facility time posts to job sharing and to look at the distribution of facility time to ensure that as many people as possible have access to it, especially those with less access e.g. part time workers, low paid workers, shift workers and outsourced workers.

Conference therefore resolves to call upon the Service Group Executive to campaign to fight against attacks on trade union facility time in local government by:

1) Closely monitoring developments across UK councils, and working with the union as a whole to gauge the full extent of cuts to facility time

2) Ensuring that branches are aware of and have access to current guidance on negotiating facility time, including the gender dimension

3) Working with regional Local Government Service Group Committees to develop practical and immediate support measures for branches facing cuts to facility time

4) Working with the National Executive Council to develop a national strategy for supporting branches that are having their facility time cut, noting the immediate and current impact on some branches

5) Promoting recognition and facility time as a means to ensuring a strong UNISON presence in councils and outsourced workplaces and good industrial relations

6) Working alongside councils and the LGA Labour Group to demonstrate the value of facility time to employers

7) Using all available channels to raise awareness of the value of facility time in local government, and to counter the attacks by the government and the Tax Payers’ Alliance, challenging the misleading and untrue claims designed to attack and undermine trade union facility time.