With a specific clause of the Trade Union Bill 2015-16, the UK government sought to limit the amount of paid facility time union representatives in the public sector could devote to advising, and negotiating on behalf of, their members.
Thanks in part to research by Professor Nick Bacon and Professor Kim Hoque, which demonstrated the benefit of facility time for both employers and employees, the clause eventually inserted in the bill was diluted to an extent that it has had a negligible effect on levels of workplace union representation.
What did we explore and how?
The researchers drew on the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS 2011) to explore the presence, activities, and effect of workplace union representatives in the public sector.
They found that managers believe workplace union representatives make a positive contribution to industrial relations, not a subversive one, and enhance workplace performance.
In partnership with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the researchers then analysed WERS 2011 data to explore the relationship between workplace union presence and workplace outcomes in public healthcare services. Again, union representative presence was found to have a positive effect.
Conducting and analysing a primary survey of RCN union representatives further indicated that any reduction in workplace union representation may have a negative impact on NHS performance.
Benefits and influence of this research
Bacon and Hoque’s research influenced major changes to the Trade Union Bill 2015-16 before it was brought into law; specifically, the removal of Clause 13, and then other significant revisions before its submission.
Their work helped postpone the date ministers could exercise powers to limit facility time in the public sector, and made it a requirement that ministers collect appropriate data to justify any such action.
This was the result of disseminating their findings to trade union general secretaries, and to selected opposition peers and MPs. They also discussed their findings with the civil service team responsible for the Trade Union Bill.
Baroness Hayter made reference to both the research and to City, University of London in the House of Lords debate, and Lord Monks commented that the research “has proved to be extremely important in enabling public sector union representatives to continue to provide effective representation to their member”.
The research has helped persuade public sector employers to re-affirm the importance of facility time for organisational functioning.
For example, the NHS Social Partnership Forum (SPF) cites Bacon and Hoque’s research when stating that “to be effective, union representatives need to have reasonable paid time off from their normal job to enable them to undertake the role”.
As a result of the policy changes encouraged by Bacon and Hoque’s research, the government has not reduced overall facility time in the public sector.
During this period, the average number of union representatives per employer in the public sector increased from 15.78 in 2017-18 to 16.67 in 2018-19 (the latest data available) according to analysis of official facility time returns.
As such, Bacon and Hoque’s research has had an enduring impact on workplace union representation in Britain.