Tory-led Trade Union Reform Campaign wants to “modernise” paid time off for trade union duties in the civil service
A consultation on facility time within the civil service will begin imminently as there is urgent need of “modernisation”, MPs have been told.
Cabinet Office Minister Nick Hurd was speaking during a Commons debate on trade union funding.
The debate, which was at times heated, was addressed by a string of Tory MPs linked to the Trade Union Reform Campaign (TURC), including Aidan Burley, its controversial chairman who was sacked from his job as a parliamentary private secretary to Transport Secretary Justine Greening after organising a Nazi-themed stag night for a friend.
However, as well as a series of Labour MPs defending the unions, there were also contributions from several Tory MPs that were more positive towards them.
Hurd said there was “legitimate concern” in the context of the public sector about the level of contribution from the taxpayer, and about transparency and balance.
At the heart of statutory framework was the importance of good industrial relations in maintaining an effective organisation.
“A reasonable amount of paid time off offers value for money for customers of an organisation and users of their services. For example, it can minimise working time lost due to disputes and accidents at work.”
Hurd confirmed: “We will be consulting with the civil service trade unions on the following areas: reduction in overall facility time across the civil service; ending or limiting the practice of 100% of civil service employees’ time being spent on trade union activities, as opposed to duties; and developing a common system for reporting and monitoring across the civil service.
“That is the framework of the consultation, which I am assured will start imminently.
“We will seek to review and rebalance the amount of paid time off provided to undertake trade union duties. The current level of facilities time offered to trade unions across departments is very generous, and it is certainly significantly more than that allowed in the private sector, or indeed in the wider public sector.
“While recognising the importance of effective representation in the workplace, we firmly believe that trade union facility time arrangements are in urgent need of modernisation to reflect modern working practices.
“The consultation is focused on the civil service, where my responsibility as a Minister in the Cabinet Office lies; however other colleagues who have responsibility for these matters in the wider public sector have been asked by the Prime Minister to review the position in their sectors.”
Congleton Tory MP Fiona Bruce, who secured the debate, said it was about finding the right balance between effective representation of trade union members and value for money for the taxpayer.
“Many of us believe that, at the moment, the balance disproportionately disadvantages the taxpayer.”
Burley claimed it was a matter of basic principle: “Is it appropriate for the taxpayer to subsidise trade unions at all, and if so, to what extent?”
But Tory Harlow MP Robert Halfon, a Prospect member, said Margaret Thatcher was an active trade unionist, and they should build on the party’s long history of co-operating with them.
“We should not be afraid to support grass-roots trade union members, to encourage people to join trade unions and – dare I say it? – to have, perhaps, the occasional beer and sandwich.”
Labour MP Frank Doran, a GMB member, accused the Tories of forming TURC “as a front and a seemingly independent organisation to get over their message and alter the debate on public finances”.
Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson, a union member for 43 years, said: “We know where this has come from, the storm-troopers of the TaxPayers Alliance.”
Labour shadow minister Gareth Thomas said unions were heavily regulated, and even in her wildest moments Thatcher did not want to abolish the right of employees in the public sector to be represented properly.
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