Environmental or green reps do not at present have legal rights to time off to carry out the role or undertake training so extending the scope of union activities to cover environmental issues at work only happens through voluntary agreements with employers.
Guidance is in the ACAS document Trade Union Representation
in the Workplace (January 2010, page 12):
The role of environmental representatives and their needs
" In some workplaces trade unions gain agreement from the employer to elect or appoint representatives with a specialist role. Environmental representatives focus on the climate change agenda and changes in work organisation and green workplace projects. They may serve on environmental committees if these are established. They can work to improve the impact of an organisation or workplace on the local environment, helping nearby communities and raising the reputation of the employer. Environmental representatives have no statutory rights to time off, training or facilities. Appropriate training is available from trade unions and the TUC and the government sponsored Union Learning Fund is available to support approved training programmes for these representatives."
The full document is available on the ACAS website.
Pressure has been growing in parliament around this issue in recent years. In 2006/7 John McDonnell MP tabled an early day motion (EDM) asking for workplace environmental reps to be given the same rights as other union reps. A further EDM was tabled by Martin Salter MP on the same issue.
A motion on climate change was carried at TUC Congress 2008 calling on the government to give statutory rights to environmental reps.
PCS campaigning on rights for green reps
At our national green forum in December 2007 John McDonnell MP, chair of the PCS parliamentary group of MPs, proposed tabling a parliamentary amendment seeking to amend the ACAS code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities to provide statutory rights for environmental reps.
Working with PCS, John McDonnell drafted an amendment to the Employment Bill (now Employment Act 2008) to provide for time off for training and carrying out activities along similar lines to those accorded to union learning reps in 2002.
Although the amendment wasn't taken to a vote, it did help to rasie the profile of the issue in parliament.
AT TUC Congress 2009, a PCS delegate asked the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, if he would set an example to other employers by giving reasonable time off for green reps to carry out their duties.
Ed Miliband replied: “I haven’t said we were ruling it out. It is a live and important issue for our next manifesto and it is something we need to discuss with the unions.”
At a TUC conference in March 2010 Ed Miliband was asked whether statutory rights for green reps would be in the Labour Party's election manifesto. He said he was “very sympathetic to looking at how there can be more green reps” (it wasn't in the manifesto).
The campaign for rights for workplace environmental reps is supported by green organisations such as Friends of the Earth and the Campaign against Climate Change. The Green Party also supports statutory rights for environmental reps.
The vital role union reps can play in tackling climate change has been acknowledged by government ministers. In June 2008, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, visited the British Museum where PCS led on one of the TUC’s Greenworkplaces projects in 2006/7. Speaking afterwards at a TUC conference on climate change he said:
“Today I saw at first hand the valuable role that union reps are playing. I visited a ‘Greening the workplace’ project at the British Museum, where union reps have worked in partnership with management to raise awareness of climate change in the workplace and identify opportunities for carbon savings. I was impressed with the work I saw and with the real commitment and enthusiasm. What is clear is that bottom-up union and employee led action can really make a difference.”