In order to qualify for paid time off to carry out union duties, there are three conditions that usually have to be met:
- the representative must have gained their post in accordance with the rules of the union (usually this means being elected)
- the union must be independent - ie. not under the control of an employer
- the union must be recognised by the employer
Where PCS is recognised by the employer
Where a union is recognised by an employer, representatives are entitled to ask for 'reasonable' paid time off during working time to carry out their duties (Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA), s.168).
The precise amount of time allowed is whatever is 'reasonable in all the circumstances' having regard to the ACAS Code of Practice on Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities (revised January 2003). Find out more on the ACAS website.
Time off for training
In relation to training, time off is restricted to the time that a representative needs to undertake training that is relevant to carrying out their duties which has been approved by the union or the TUC.
If your branch has notified your employer that you have been appointed as a health and safety representative your employer must give you such time as is reasonable to carry out your duties - including attending health and safety training organised by PCS or the TUC.
Arrangements for learning reps
A similar arrangement is now in place for learning reps. This is in addition to time you may have for other trade union activities.
In some cases, an agreement between the union and the employer setting out arrangements in relation to time off may form part of a broader agreement - including, for example, accommodation and access to a telephone. This is sometimes called a 'Facilities Agreement'.
Time off should be paid
You must be paid for time off as a representative on the basis of what would have been your normal pay on the day in question.
If your pay varies with the amount of work you do it is calculated by reference to your average hourly earnings (TULRCA 1992, s.169). If time off is unreasonably refused, or you are not paid, you can take a complaint to an Employment Tribunal.
If you are not able to get paid time off as the situation does not meet all the criteria set out by the law, you might still be able to have unpaid leave as Section 170 of the TULR(C)A 92 requires that employers permit employees who are members of recognised unions to take time off during working hours to take part in any activities of the union and any activities where the employee is acting as a representative of the union - excluding industrial action.
Where PCS is not recognised by the employer
If a union is not recognised by an employer, the situation is different. Representatives do not have the same legal rights to paid time off except:
- where redundancies or business transfers are occurring as employers must consult with 'appropriate' representatives where there are likely to be redundancies involving more than 20 people in one establishment
- when dealing with disciplinary hearings and grievances as employees may be accompanied by a union full time officer, a lay officer certified by the union as having been trained or having relevant experience, or a colleague according to the 'right to be accompanied' provisions of the Employment Relations Act (1999). However, there is no legal provision for time off for training for this purpose.
Although you do not have a legal right, you can request leave in order to attend training.
If you are having difficulty in gettiing time off to carry out union duties or to attend a training course, seek advice from your branch secretary or contact your full-time official.