Ian Murray MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Minister, has responded to a Tory backbenchers Ten Minute Rule Bill to be introduced by Jesse Norman MP and said that it is out of step with business and could ultimately be more costly for the public purse. He has expressed concern that the Bill targets a policy which fosters good business and has urged the Government not to support him.
Mr Norman’s Bill seeks to limit the work of trade union and workplace representatives. However, representatives in the workplace have a tightly defined set of duties which they receive paid time off for. This is defined under the Acas Code of Practice on Time Off for Trade Union duties and activities (CoP 3) 20091. The duties of representatives include negotiating with employers, representing members in disputes and performing the necessary duties of a Health & Safety or Union Learning Rep. Many additional duties conducted by Reps are with agreements made by employers with Trade Unions. These agreements are finalised by employers themselves with full knowledge of the costs and benefits.
Additionally, the Tax Payers’ Alliance figures which Mr Norman frequently refers to are very selective and have been shown to be plainly wrong2. Their claimed figure of £113 million cost to the public sector includes alleged payments to unions that no longer exist, organisations which are not certified trade unions and money from other designated funds.
Ian Murray MP said:
“At its core, this issue is about what is good for both the employee and employer in the fostering of a healthy relationship in the workplace. Facilities time and workplace reps do exactly that.
“However, the Tories are so out of touch that they fail to see that effective staff engagement and wider union representation in the workplace is good for business in both the public and private sectors.
“The Government needs to be clear that Mr Norman’s Bill is out of step with business and not the answer to the UK’s economic ills. Indeed, it could cost the public purse as much as £720m in lost benefits and savings. The Business Secretary particularly, must join the business and public sector community, as well as his colleagues5, and take a stand on this Bill.”
This view has been backed today by the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) which represents chemical and pharmaceutical businesses across the UK and internationally. Simon Marsh of CIA said7:
“Rather than focussing on changing the way in which businesses allow time for local trade union representatives to do their duties, the Government’s time would be better spent demonstrating the many successes of how employers work with trade unions right across the country to improve company performance not just in employment matters but also in many other issues including health & safety, the environment and sustainability.”
A joint study in 2009 by the Government, TUC and the CBI showed that all those involved – employees, the union and the employer – have directly benefited from workplace representatives and the use of facilities time. The TUC in their 2012 report, “Facility time for union reps: separating fact from fiction” showed that for each pound spent on facilities time it saves business between £2 and £9.3
In 2009, then CBI Director General Richard Lambert said:
“In today’s difficult economic climate, it is more important than ever that all resources available to the workplace are well deployed. Union reps constitute a major resource. We believe that modern representatives have a lot to give their fellow employees and to the organisations that employ them.”4
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) have also stated their concerns. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:
“Employers in both the public and private sectors know only too well the value of union reps in the workplace. They know that without the hard work and expertise of tens of thousands of union reps they would face increased recruitment and retention costs, experience a drop in productivity and staff morale, and would see themselves hauled before employment tribunals far more frequently than is currently the case. For them the cost of union reps is more than outweighed by the many and varied benefits.
“Successive governments have recognised the moral, legal and economic case for supporting workplace reps – this government should do the same and steer clear of the ideologically-driven obsessions of a handful of right wing back benchers.”