DOCAS and facility time changes brought forward

New DOCAS agreements have to be in place from 10 March 2018 – new rules on recording union facility time in the public sector start on 1 April with first reports due by 31 July 2018

New rules around trade union subscription payments and facility time will come into effect earlier than previously expected, the government has announced.

Extensive lobbying from UNISON and the TUC significantly watered down the original government proposals in the Trade Union Act, but there are still changes to the way the DOCAS (or “check off”) will operate in public service employers and new requirements on reporting facility time.

From 10 March 2018, new DOCAS agreements have to be in place to ensure a “reasonable fee” is being paid wherever employers deduct union subs directly from staff wages.

The new rules only apply to public sector employers and do not apply in Northern Ireland. Members who already pay by direct debit are not affected by the changes.

UNISON continues to lobby against these changes, but the union has also been preparing to implement the new arrangements.

A UNISON project team has been working for six months on plans for the change and a pilot project has been set up and will begin in April.

Most UNISON members work for 300 or so large employers, and regions will be approaching these employers over the next two months or so – so branches should not seek to renegotiate any DOCAS agreement without talking to their regional office first.

But about a third of members work for smaller employers and are scattered among some 7,500 workplaces – many with less than 10 members each.

It is these fragmented workplaces which will be more of a challenge. That is why UNISON is running a pilot project with smaller employers in Kent to see if it is more efficient to switch these members to direct debit payments.

This will cover some 127 workplaces with about 450 members – all of whom are members of Kent local government branch but do who not work for the county council.

The project will run from 24 April to 21 July and will give the union vital information about how to handle member subscriptions in small workplaces like this. A fuller switch programme could then be rolled out from autumn 2017 to March 2018.

On facility time, the Trade Union Act introduces a new duty for public sector employers to report annually on the extent and costs of facility time arrangements.

These new reporting requirements will begin from 1 April 2017, with the first reports published by 31 July 2018.

Originally, the government had intended to introduce a cap on the amount of facility time that public sector employers could agree to, but after determined lobbying, this was reduced to a new reporting framework.

UNISON remains resolute that facility time is a benefit to workplaces and should not be subject to any artificial cap or limit.

New guidance for branches on negotiating facility time and working with employers on reporting will be issued shortly.