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Forgive Them; For They Know Not What They Do

This week our guest blogger is Peter Griffin, IIRSM Board Member

Many of you will be aware of the Cabinet Office (CO) Consultation on reform to Trade Union facility time (FT) in the Civil Service and the Government’s conclusion that FT cannot be exempt from the current cross-Government drive for efficiency. The most pertinent decisions of the CO can be summarised as:

  • Trade Union Representatives to spend 50% or more of their time in their Civil Service role;
  • Any exceptions are subject to Secretary of State (or equivalent) approval, and such roles would be time-limited to a maximum of three years;
  • The default position would be that Trade Union facing activities would not attract paid time off. Any exceptions are subject to Secretary of State approval.
  • In the first year the cost of FT must not exceed 0.1% of the pay bill. This is for all facility time, including time for Health and Safety representatives and time for Union Learning representatives. Any exceptions are subject to Secretary of State approval.

Perhaps the most significant of these is the final bullet point, which indicates that even the work of union health and safety representatives must be included in this 0.1% maximum. The law (Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977) makes it clear that union appointed health and safety representatives can:

  • represent employees generally and when the employer consults them about specific matters that will affect the health, safety and welfare of the employees;
  • represent employees when Health and Safety Inspectors from HSE or local authorities consult them;
  • investigate accidents, near misses, and other potential hazards and dangerous occurrences in the workplace;
  • investigate complaints made by an employee they represent about their health, safety or welfare in the workplace;
  • present the findings of investigations to the employer;
  • inspect the workplace;
  • with at least one other appointed representative, request in writing that the employer set up a health and safety committee; and
  • attend Health and Safety Committee meetings as a representative of the employees.

The Government does not seem to appreciate the great value of the work performed by union appointed health and safety representatives and the fact that, if the trade union safety representatives were not doing it, the employer would need to appoint their own safety representatives to do this work. These employer safety representatives would be doing all this “safety” work as part of their normal Civil Service role rather than facility time.

So why is the Government trying to make a distinction between health and safety roles carried out by union representatives as compared to employer representatives? Surely both benefit the organisation and the employees? Unfortunately, I think it is a resurgence of the Conservative Thatcherism aims to “break union power once and for all”

Hence my use of the quote from Luke Chapter 23, verse 34 as my heading for this article. The Government does not know what useful work is being done every day by union appointed safety representatives and also does not know what damage it is doing to health and safety in the Civil Service by forcibly cutting the activities of these people.

Peter Griffin, IIRSM Board Member


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