Conservative call to cap union work ruled unlawful

Saturday September 30th 2023


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Stuart Sommerville

An attempt by the Conservative group leader on West Lothian council to put a cap on union related work by staff has been rejected as unlawful.

A union rep for West Lothian council staff welcomed the decision as “right for moral and practical reasons.”

The Tory group leader Damian Doran-Timson said that the time spent by union reps doing union duties while at work – known as facility time – had cost the council more than £200,000 in the last year.

He added: “I trust that the union representatives will not make mockery of the council, their employer, by being paid for a job that they don’t spend one minute doing.

Councillor Doran-Timson had put forward a motion calling for the relevant council officers to meet with the unions and to ensure that no more than 50% of a trade union representative’s time is spent on union duties and activities.

Hinting at what was coming the meeting began with many councillors announcing their membership of, mostly council, related unions including GMB, Unite and Unison.

The Provost, Cathy Muldoon is a member of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) – a railway related union.

Provost Muldoon told Councillor Doran-Timson and the meeting of the full council on Tuesday afternoon: “Because the motion proposes something that would not be lawful, I am ruling that this motion will not be heard today on the basis that it’s not a competent motion.”

The Governance Manager James Millar explained: “Employment legislation gives employees the right to request time off for union activities.

“An employer, and the council is obviously an employer, has a duty to consider those requests and to allow time off which it considers to be reasonable. It has to be assessed. To impose a cap on the amount of time that the employer might consider to be reasonable, represents something that’s not lawful for the council to do. It has to consider each case on its own merits.

“The legal advice is that the motion asks the council to do something which is not lawful for it to do.”

After the meeting Tom Carr-Pollock, the GMB Scotland branch secretary for West Lothian, said: “It is sadly no surprise that Tories in the Council would attempt to trample over employment legislation since their counterparts in Westminster have been attempting to do the same for decades.

“Union reps play a crucial role in speaking for workers, protecting their rights and maintaining co-operative and effective industrial relations with the council.

“It is regrettable that Conservative members do not understand the value of their work and the clear benefits it brings but it is astonishing they have such a lack of knowledge of employment law and the protection it secures for workers.”

Mr Carr-Pollock added: “It was, of course, the right decision to bin this motion for legal reasons but it was also the right decision for moral and practical reasons.”

After the meeting Councillor Doran-Timson said: “It was disappointing not to be allowed to propose my motion at full council to reduce ‘facility time’ by trade union representatives.

“This is time taken by employees of West Lothian Council on union matters.

“Whilst there certainly is a need for trade union officials, at a time when every service area in West Lothian Council is being cut and charges and council taxes are going up, it is unacceptable for trade union representatives to not also make reductions in what they are costing West Lothian Council.

“The cost of this facility time is over £203,000 per annum with some trade union representatives spending 100% of their time on union matters and not one hour on what they are paid to do by their employer, West Lothian Council.

“I call on these trade union representatives to do the right thing by their employer and by the residents of West Lothian and start doing their day jobs as well”.

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