Facilities time: your democratic right

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Rights and conditions
02 November 2016
ATL believes the right to a fair hearing is the bedrock of any democracy and its cornerstone is access to independent advice and representation. It is nothing less than your democratic right.

As an ATL member, you exercise this right through your workplace rep and branch secretary. These volunteers are your fellow employees, elected by you and trained by ATL to support and represent you. Facilities time gives them enough time to work with you.

The vital tasks undertaken on your behalf by ATL's reps and branch secretaries are complex, varied and time-consuming. These are just some of their duties:

  • They negotiate new policies with heads, principals and local authorities on pay, redundancy, timetabling and leave, to name but a few.
  • They represent you collectively around significant organisational upheavals such as academy conversion and college restructuring.
  • They represent hundreds of individual members in informal and formal meetings with line managers, heads and principals every month — investigation meetings, discipline and grievance hearings or return-to-work interviews.
  • For many members they simply provide a sympathetic ear and source of guidance on how best to deal with difficult issues.
  • They are ATL's eyes, ears, voice and face in the workplace, making sure your views are heard.

Paid release from teaching duties is not an open-ended, ballooning expense to employers, despite what government rhetoric says. Almost without exception, ATL reps and branch secretaries spend as much time undertaking union work on their own unpaid time as they do paid by their school or local authority.

The review of trade union facilities that Secretary of State Michael Gove's department undertook in early 2014 was not an unbiased cost-and-benefit analysis. His consultation contained only estimates of what trade union facilities cost employers, sourced from the notoriously biased right-wing Taxpayers' Alliance.

There is an extensive body of research that establishes a whole range of benefits of union representation that typically outweigh costs. One review, undertaken by the government itself in 2007 estimated that every £1 employers spent on paid time off brought them "an identifiable range of benefits" worth between £2 and £5.

The TUC report, Facility Time for Union Reps - Separating Fact from Fiction, reported that dismissal rates, voluntary exit rates, tribunal cases, workplace injuries and illnesses were all lower in workplaces with union reps, giving a total saving of at least £400 million a year at 2010 prices.

Employers recognise these benefits too. In its own response to the DfE consultation, the Local Government Association, the umbrella body of local authority employers, noted: "Despite the different perspectives that management and unions often have, the local [union] representatives make a valuable contribution to resolving employee relations issued before positions become entrenched and resolution becomes more difficult and costly… While we recognise it is impossible to specifically measure, the cost of facilities time needs to be balanced against the potentially avoided costs of employment tribunals."

One of the most important benefits of your workplace representation being undertaken by volunteer colleagues and peers is that they are familiar with their schools and colleges, they know their members, heads and principals and other key staff, so they get involved in problems early, and typically get them resolved informally, ensuring the minimum disruption to learners.

In the end, protecting facilities time is about defending your legal and democratic rights. You can join ATL's campaign to protect facilities time here.