(updated from July 2016)
What is the context?
In 1975, the Employment Protection Act was introduced, which included a statutory right to paid time off for trade union representatives to undertake training and trade union “duties”. The Act also gave Acas the responsibility for publishing Codes of Practice containing practical guidance for the purpose of promoting positive industrial relations. The statutory right to paid time off, and various editions of the Code of Practice have been in place ever since.
In addition to guidance around the provision of facility time, the Acas Code of Practice contains guidance around the provision of certain other facilities intended to assist trade union representatives in discharging their duties. These might include accommodation, access to a telephone, secure storage, the use of noticeboards, confidential space to speak with members, and access to members working at another location. Generally, the details of all facilities (including facility time) are contained within a “Facilities Agreement” or a “Trade Union Recognition Agreement.
The statutory obligation to provide facility time to trade union representatives sits with the employer, whether in a maintained school setting, an Academy Trust setting, or a free school.
Trade union representatives and members also have a statutory right to reasonable unpaid time off for undertaking TU activities.
ASCL position: ASCL recognises that facility time is a statutory responsibility and advises strongly that members’ employers buy into local authority pooled arrangements where they are available.
Why are we saying it?
Managing industrial relations can be one of the most rewarding elements of management and members are likely to find that pooled arrangements are the simplest, most effective, and most efficient way to manage these. All trade unions recognise pooled arrangements as the least disruptive way of providing facility time.
Pooled arrangements mean that multiple schools can share the cost of trade union representatives between themselves. Without such arrangements, each employer must allow paid time off for representatives from every teaching and support staff union, including training time, meaning that the cost can escalate rapidly. For some unions, training can take around ten days each year and potentially there could be up to eight workplace representatives of the various recognised unions in every school and academy. The cost of providing this would self-evidently surpass the per-pupil cost of contributing to pooled arrangements.
Schools will also generally find that the more experienced local trade union representatives they will have access to may help to resolve issues at an early stage and often informally.
Most importantly, schools should remember that if they opt out of pooled arrangements, they must agree an alternative way to discharge this statutory obligation with all of the recognised trade unions.