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Section 1 - Time off for Trade Union duties

Union representatives undertake a variety of roles in collective bargaining and in working with management, communicating with union members, liaising with their trade union and in handling individual disciplinary and grievance matters on behalf of employees. There are positive benefits for employers, employees and for union members in encouraging the efficient performance of union representatives' work, for example in aiding the resolution of problems and conflicts at work. The role can be both demanding and complex. In order to perform effectively union representatives need to have reasonable paid time off from their normal job in appropriate circumstances.


8. Employees who are union representatives of an independent trade union recognised by their employer are to be permitted reasonable time off during working hours to carry out certain trade union duties.

9. Union representatives are entitled to time off where the duties are concerned with:

  • negotiations with the employer about matters which fall within section 178(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULR(C)A) and for which the union is recognised for the purposes of collective bargaining by the employer
  • any other functions on behalf of employees of the employer which are related to matters falling within section 178(2) TULR(C)A and which the employer has agreed the union may perform
  • the receipt of information from the employer and consultation by the employer under section 188 TULR(C)A, related to redundancy or under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 that applies to employees of the employer
  • negotiations with a view to entering into an agreement under regulation 9 of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 that applies to employees of the employer; or
  • the performance on behalf of employees of the employer of functions related to or connected with the making of an agreement under regulation 9 of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection or Employment) Regulations 2006.

Matters falling within section 178(2) TULR(C)A are listed in the sub headings of paragraph 13 below.

10. The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 regulation 4(2)(a) requires that employers allow union health and safety representatives paid time, as is necessary, during working hours,to perform their functions.

Further advice on time off provisions for health and safety representatives is provided by the Health and Safety Executive in their approved Code and Guidance 'Consulting workers on health and safety'. This is not covered in this Acas Code.

11. An independent trade union is recognised by an employer when it is recognised to any extent for the purposes of collective bargaining. Where a trade union is not so recognised by an employer, employees have no statutory right to time off to undertake any duties except that of accompanying a worker at a disciplinary or grievance hearing (see para 20).

Examples of trade union duties

12. Subject to the recognition or other agreement, trade union representatives should be allowed to take reasonable time off for duties concerned with negotiations or, where their employer has agreed, for duties concerned with other functions related to or connected with the subjects of collective bargaining.

13. The subjects connected with collective bargaining may include one or more of the following:

(a) terms and conditions of employment, or the physical conditions in which workers are required to work. Examples could include:

  • pay
  • hours of work
  • holidays and holiday pay
  • sick pay arrangements
  • pensions
  • learning and training
  • equality and diversity
  • notice periods
  • the working environment
  • operation of digital equipment and other machinery.

(b) engagement or non engagement, or termination or suspension of employment or the duties of employment, of one or more workers. Examples could include:

  • recruitment and selection policies
  • human resource planning
  • redundancy and dismissal arrangements.

(c) allocation of work or the duties of employment as between workers or groups of workers. Examples could include:

  • job grading
  • job evaluation
  • job descriptions
  • flexible working practices
  • work-life balance.

(d) matters of discipline. Examples could include:

  • disciplinary procedures
  • arrangements for representing or accompanying employees at internal interviews
  • arrangements for appearing on behalf of trade union members, 
    or as witnesses, before agreed outside appeal bodies or employment tribunals.

(e) trade union membership or non membership. Examples could include:

  • representational arrangements
  • any union involvement in the induction of new workers.

(f) facilities for trade union representatives. Examples could include any agreed arrangements for the provision of:

  • accommodation
  • equipment
  • names of new workers to the union.

(g) machinery for negotiation or consultation and other procedures. Examples could include arrangements for:

  • collective bargaining at the employer and/or multi-employer level
  • grievance procedures
  • joint consultation
  • communicating with members
  • communicating with other union representatives and union full-time officers concerned with collective bargaining with the employer.

14. The duties of a representative of a recognised trade union must be connected with or related to negotiations or the performance of functions both in time and subject matter. Reasonable time off may be sought, for example, to:

  • prepare for negotiations, including attending relevant meetings
  • inform members of progress and outcomes
  • prepare for meetings with the employer about matters for which the trade union has only representational rights.

15. Trade union duties will also be related to the receipt of information and consultation related to the handling of collective redundancies where an employer is proposing to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment within a period of 90 days, and where the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employees) Regulations apply but also including the negotiations with a view to entering an agreement under regulation 9 of the Regulations (variation of contract in insolvency).

Union Learning Representatives

16. Employees who are members of an independent trade union recognised by the employer can take reasonable time off to undertake the duties of a Union Learning Representative, provided that the union has given the employer notice in writing that the employee is a learning representative of the trade union and the training condition is met (see paras 28 – 33 for further information on the training condition). The functions for which time off as a Union Learning Representative is allowed are:

  • analysing learning or training needs
  • providing information and advice about learning or training matters
  • arranging learning or training
  • promoting the value of learning or training
  • consulting the employer about carrying on any such activities
  • preparation to carry out any of the above activities
  • undergoing relevant training.

In practice, the roles and responsibilities of Union Learning Representatives will often vary by union and by workplace but must include one or more of these functions. In some cases it may be helpful if Union Learning Representatives attend meetings concerned with agreeing and promoting learning agreements. Employers may also see it in their interests to grant paid time off for these representatives to attend meetings with external partners concerned with the development and provision of workforce training.

Recognition needs to be given to the varying roles of Union Learning Representatives where the post holder also undertakes additional duties as a union representative.

17. Many employers have in place well established training and development programmes for their employees. Union Learning Representatives should liaise with their employers to ensure that their respective training activities complement one another and that the scope for duplication is minimised.

Payment for time off for trade union duties

18. An employer who permits union representatives time off for trade union duties must pay them for the time off taken. The employer must pay either the amount that the union representative would have earned had they worked during the time off taken or, where earnings vary with the work done, an amount calculated by reference to the average hourly earnings for the work they are employed to do.

The calculation of pay for the time taken for trade union duties should be undertaken with due regard to the type of payment system applying to the union representative including, as appropriate, shift premia, performance related pay, bonuses and commission earnings. Where pay is linked to the achievement of performance targets it may be necessary to adjust such targets to take account of the reduced time the representative has to achieve the desired performance.

19. There is no statutory requirement to pay for time off where the duty is carried out at a time when the union representative would not otherwise have been at work unless the union representative works flexible hours, such as night shift, but needs to perform representative duties during normal hours. Staff who work part time will be entitled to be paid if staff who work full time would be entitled to be paid. In all cases the amount of time off must be reasonable.

Time off to accompany Workers at disciplinary or Grievance Hearings

20. Trade union representatives are statutorily entitled to take a reasonable amount of paid time off to accompany a worker at a disciplinary or grievance hearing so long as they have been certified by their union as being capable of acting as a worker's companion. The right to time off in these situations applies regardless of whether the certified person belongs to a recognised union or not although the worker being accompanied must be employed by the same employer. Time off for a union representative or a certified person to accompany a worker of another employer is a matter for voluntary agreement between the parties concerned.

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