Labour Research May 2012

Law Queries

Trade union duties

Q. Our employer has become unhappy with the amount of time off we are taking for our trade union work. It says that it doesn’t object to trade union duties but won’t support trade union activities — what is the difference?

A. You and your colleagues are entitled to a reasonable amount of time off to carry out both trade union duties and trade union activities. However, the employer need only give you paid time off in relation to your union duties.

Trade union duties are defined under section 178(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 (TULRCA). Union duties include negotiating with the employer over terms and conditions, representing members at disciplinaries/grievances, and consulting with the employer over redundancies or a TUPE transfer of undertakings case. Under section 168 of TULRCA, time off to undertake trade union duties must be paid by your employer.

Trade union activities include helping with union administration, taking part in a recruitment campaign to encourage other employees to become members of the union, and participating in a union election campaign. Time off to undertake union activities need not be paid, though some employers have also been persuaded to provide paid time off for this as well.

Removing paid time off for union activities in the public sector has been the focus of recent attacks including by the Tory-backed Trade Union Reform Campaign (see Labour Research, January 2012, page 7).