Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Research debunks right-wing myths on union facility time

A document setting out some of the benefits of union reps to the economy has been published by the TUC amidst a concerted political attack on trade union facility time in the public sector.

Facility time for union reps: separating fact from fiction, written by Professor Gregor Gall of the University of Hertfordshire, also debunks the recent Taxpayers’ Alliance calculation of the amount spent by the public sector on paying staff to do union work.

The TUC report estimates that having union reps in workplaces could be saving public and private sector employers up to £701 million a year.

This comes from: having more productive and better trained workforces; safer workplaces; and fewer cases taken to employment tribunal, which means staff stay in post for longer, allowing employers to spend less on recruitment and retention.

These benefits are quantified using figures provided by the then Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) in 2007.
They were set out in a review of workplace representatives’ facilities and facility time, and put a total UK figure on the savings to employers from the presence of union reps of between £372 million and £977 million a year.

The new report calculates that, taking account of inflation, the savings for the public sector alone (the focus of the recent attacks) are between £267 million and £701 million a year.
Gall’s report also heavily criticises the methodology used by the Taxpayers’ Alliance in its calculation that taxpayers fund trade unions to the tune of £113 million a year.

The figure has been used by, among others, the recently formed Trade Union Reform Campaign, headed by Conservative MP Aidan Burley, in its bid to put a further squeeze on unions.
Gall says the two key areas of failure are the inclusion of sums spent on union-led activity on learning and skills, and the inclusion of facility time for organisations which have long-since ceased to exist — or are not trade unions at all.

His report says that, “in reality, the TaxPayers’ Alliance report reveals that less than £80 million a year was spent on trade union facility time in the public sector”. Using that figure as the basis for a cost-benefit analysis means that for every £1 spent on union facility time in the public sector, between £3 and £9 is returned in accrued benefits.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that “the highly exaggerated and wholly inaccurate figures being bandied around by groups and individuals on the right,” were “nothing more than a thinly-veiled attack on unions and their ability to represent workers across the public sector”.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service union, said PCS reps “work incredibly hard on behalf of our members, often in their own time”.
He said: “The truth is that, if they got their way, these discredited MPs leading a purely politically motivated campaign would damage our economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds a year.”
Labour MP John Healey says the return on investment in union reps is “why employers aren’t leading the call for this attack”.
Healey added: “They know the benefits that unions can bring to their organisation.”

Source: Labour Research magazine, March 2012