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Merthyr Tydfil Politics South Wales

Councillors vote for five days a week of staff’s access to union representatives

COUNCILLORS in Merthyr Tydfil have voted to keep five days a week of access to trades union representatives for staff until the end of this financial year.

A report to full council on Wednesday, November 8, recommended approving the growth required for two days of facility time for both Unison and GMB but councillors voted in favour of an amendment brought forward by opposition Labour group leader councillor Darren Roberts to keep it at five days until March 2024.

Facility time is time off from someone’s job, granted by the employer, to enable a union rep to carry out their trade union role.

The council report said in some cases, this can mean the rep is fully seconded from their regular job, enabling them to work full time on trade union tasks and can also mean an employer allows a rep to carry out trade union duties and activities, instead of their substantive job, for a certain amount of time per week or month.

All organisations are obliged to adhere to employment law, and the Trade Unions and Labour Relations Act 1992 sets out that all employers that recognise unions are legally obliged to consult with them as part of collective bargaining when specific types of employment issues are being changed, the report said.

In February, due to the financial budget constraints, and to help the council through the voluntary redundancy and early retirement process, council passed a resolution agreeing the allocation of facility time through seconded full-time union officials to support the process.

The council agreed five days of facility time to both Unison and GMB for a fixed six-month period. At the end of that six months, and expecting there may still be a need for facility time in September,  recommendations were made to cabinet to continue with the agreed five days until the end of the financial year, in order to support the council through the next budget setting period.

Cabinet then reviewed the recommendations and decided two days per week per union facility time was adequate due to the current budget restraints. The financial impact of the trade unions’ facility time for two days per week for both Unison and GMB until the end of the financial year would have been £16,630.

The report said the council and the trades unions support the system of collective bargaining and the principle of solving employee relations problems by discussion and agreement.

It said: “All parties recognise that it is vital to good employee relations that union reps have the time and facilities to adequately represent the workforce.

“All parties recognise that time off arrangements can facilitate the resolution of issues before they escalate into more costly forms of dispute or bring lasting damage to standards of service.”

Previously, Unison raised concerns about the plans to reduce the access for hundreds of staff to trade union reps, saying the cuts would make it more difficult for HR officers to arrange disciplinary investigations and hearings and that reps would have to be retrained.

It highlighted that earlier this year the Welsh Government enshrined union relations in law with a social partnership act intended to place trade unions at the heart of decision-making over public services and called for the decision to be suspended.

At the time, council leader Geraint Thomas said working with the relevant trades unions remains a priority for the council and it will continue to do this to ensure it provides staff with efficient and effective employee relation support.