Trade Unions receive £85 million a year from public sector support

8 December 2011

Trade unions received £85.8 million from public sector organisations in 2009-10. That is made up of £18.3 million in direct payments from public sector organisations and an estimated £67.5 million in paid staff time.

The total is up 14 per cent from 2008-09, when trade unions received £76.1 million from public sector organisations.

Direct payments include a total of £13.0 million in 2008-09 and £14.9 million in 2009-10 paid by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills through the Union Learning Fund and the Union Modernisation Fund.

2,493 full time equivalent public sector employees worked for trade unions at the taxpayers’ expense in 2009-10.

The Leader of Harrogate Borough Council, Don Mackenzie commented in response to questions from Councillor Alec Brown.

Councillor Mackenzie said:

I can confirm that I have held discussions with the Chief Executive recently on the subject of the funding of the Harrogate branch secretary of Unison.

Officers have reminded me that the time off arrangements for the Unison branch secretary were the subject of a report, which came to the HR Committee on 17th August.

This report recommended that the current time off arrangements for the Unison branch secretary amounting to 30 hours per week be continued, although the union had asked for this to be increased to 37 hours owing to, quoting from the secretary’s letter, “increased workload”, resulting from various factors including:

  • The Innovate programme
  • Concordat arrangements with Craven and Selby
  • Job evaluations
  • Restructures
  • Redundancies
  • Welfare issues, grievances and injury claims

The report explained that there was a legal requirement to give reasonable time off for trade union duties.

It also explained that there were 574 union members from a headcount at that time of 1223 amounting to 47% of the workforce.

In financial terms, for the current branch secretary, this represented a cost to the taxpayer of £27,960. Unison does contribute, the report added, £2000 to this arrangement.

The council’s Corporate Management Team supported the continuance of the time off arrangements, finding them beneficial to the council and its taxpayers because they provided a single point of contact to facilitate negotiations with our employees, especially as the council carries out its plans to restructure and streamline the way in which it delivers its services.

The HR committee agreed with this, and unanimously approved the recommendations. It is my understanding that this arrangement will be reviewed in a year’s time.

Under the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, a trade union official is allowed paid time off for union duties. Additionally, that official may also have time off for trade union activities, but there is no statutary requirement that the official should be paid by his employer for those activities. Office accommodation is also generally provided free of charge.

Councillor Mackenzie added:

There will be some members here who question whether it is for taxpayers to fund these union activities, especially when these result in strike action, which deprives those same taxpayers from services, which they pay for. Some members will also ask why unions do not pay the salaries and office costs of their own officials, when they receive subscriptions from their members, and when they have very large sums of money left over to give to the Labour Party.

Whatever our views may be on this matter, a decision to continue these arrangements beyond April 2012 has already been taken by our HR committee, whose members will review the matter next year.



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