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The Taxpayers Alliance have estimated £113 million of taxpayers' money is paid to trade unions each year.  This is mainly in the form of thousands of staff being paid to do various jobs in the public sector but, in fact, working as union reps. The Cabinet Office has today published some mild proposals to curtail this extraordinary abuse of public money. My understanding is that the Department for Communities and Local Government will follow up with equivalent proposals for local government.

Reading the Cabinet Office proposals, it becomes apparent that  current records of "trade union facility time" are incomplete. So the Taxpayers Alliance disclosure, via Freedom of Information requests, of what is officially logged, is sure to be an under-estimate. One department admitted that “no formal allocations [had been] made or central records kept” of the amount of time spent by representatives on some union activity, while another confessed that “no central monitoring takes place”.

Guido Fawkes has seen a briefing with some of the most scandalous examples.  "A prison service official who worked 100% on trade union work was “promoted twice whilst in their trade union role, up to Grade 7 level” which can confer a salary of up to £61,038."  Also we learn that: "In one department TU officials make up 4% of the overall workforce or 1 in 25 people."

The consultation proposes that no member of staff should spend more than 50% of their time working for trade unions. It proposes that there should be proper reporting and benchmarking of the amount of time staff in different departments spend. It calls for the "default position" to be that the time staff take off for trade union activity should be unpaid. Finally, it concludes that the total amount of trade union facility time should be reduced through "rigorous line management." The consultation also covers the need for getting the amount of office space and facilities under control.

The consultation paper says:

Employers are required by law to allow reasonable unpaid time-off for activities. However, some employers across the Civil Service are currently providing paid time off. Examples in the Civil Service would include paid time off for attending internal union meetings, elections to trade union branches and committees and attending TUC conferences.

It makes a distinction between trade union duties (such as representation at disciplinary hearings) and more general trade union activities (I suppose such as campaigning for and helping to finance the Labour Party.)

My concern is how realistic it is for a manager to keep track if a member of their staff has, say, a day off a week to be a shop steward. I think it would be hard to monitor and enforce. I would be flexible in allowing staff time off, but insist it be unpaid. After all, trade unions already have a hefty source of revenue from their members. What do trade unionists pay their subs for? If they face a disciplinary hearing then it is reasonable for the shop steward to help present their case, but while he is working for the union, he should be paid by the union.

If this requires a change in Michael Foot's 1975 Employment Protection Act then so be it. It should also be prohibited for the state to provide trade unions with subsidised office accommodation.

There is a serious omission from the paper regarding the current practice in the state sector whereby union subscriptions are collected for trade unions via the payroll. This is quite inappropriate and should be ended. If someone wishes to join a trade union – or become a member of anything else – that is their individual decision. It is not for the state to get involved.

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