Section 25: Time off and facilities for trades union representatives

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25.1 The NHS Staff Council is committed to the principles of partnership working and staff involvement. Partnership underpins and facilitates the development of sound and effective employee relations throughout the NHS. The national partners recognise that the participation of trades union representatives in the partnership process can contribute to delivering improved services to patients and users.


25.2 Further information about the partnership approach to the implementation of pay modernisation is set out in Part 1 of this handbook, including the importance of ensuring that the representatives of trades unions recognised for purposes of collective bargaining at local level are released appropriately to participate in local partnership arrangements. The principles of partnership working are set out in Annex 27.


25.3 It is for employers and representatives of locally recognised trades unions to agree in partnership local arrangements and procedures on time off and facilities that are appropriate in local circumstances. Local arrangements are expected to be consistent with the principles set out below.


Accredited representatives


25.4 Local arrangements should apply to accredited representatives of trades unions recognised by local NHS organisations. Accreditation will only be given to employees of the organisation who have been duly elected or appointed in accordance with the rules of the respective trades unions.


25.5 Accredited representatives of trades unions will:

  • abide by the rules of their trades union and the policies and procedures of the employing organisation
  • represent their members on matters that are of concern to the employing organisation and/or its employees.

25.6 It will be for the relevant trades unions to discuss and agree with the local employer an appropriate number of representatives. Local discussions should have regard to the size and location of the unions’ membership and the expected workload associated with the role. The unions would be required to issue written credentials and notify the human resources department of the number and location of work groups for which each representative will be responsible.


25.7 Subject to the needs of the service and adequate notification, accredited representatives should be permitted paid time off, including time to prepare for meetings and disseminate information and outcomes to members during working hours, to carry out duties that are concerned with any aspect of:

  • negotiation and/or consultation on matters relating to terms and conditions of employment or agreed partnership processes – examples include:
    • terms and conditions of employment
    • engagement or termination of employment
    • allocation of work
    • matters of discipline
    • grievances and disputes
    • union membership or non-membership
    • facilities for trades union representatives
    • machinery for negotiation or consultation or other procedures; meetings with members
  • meetings with other lay officials or full-time officers
  • appearing on behalf of members before internal or external bodies
  • all joint policy implementation and partnership working
  • other matters relating to employee relations and partnership working.

25.8 The expectation is that it is good practice that staff representatives should indicate the general nature of the business for which time off is required and where they can be contacted if required. Requests should be made as far in advance as possible, as is reasonable in the circumstances. Wherever possible the representatives should indicate the anticipated period of absence. The expectation is that requests for paid time off for trades union representatives will not be unreasonably refused.




25.9 Accredited trades union representatives should be given adequate time off to allow them to attend trades union approved training courses or events. Time off should not be regarded as automatic, as employers have responsibilities to take account of the needs of service delivery. However, the expectation is that requests for paid time off to attend training courses should not be unreasonably refused as long as locally agreed processes are followed.


25.10 The expectation is that requests for release for training should be made with reasonable notice to the appropriate manager. Any training course should be relevant to the duties approved by the trades union. Local representatives should provide details of the course to local management.


Payment arrangements


25.11 Where time with pay has been approved, the payment due will equate to the earnings the employee would otherwise have received had they been at work.


25.12 When meetings called by management are held on matters covered by paragraph 7, when staff representatives have to attend outside their normal working hours, equivalent time off will be granted or appropriate payment should be made by local agreement.


25.13 There should be local agreement on when travelling and subsistence expenses will be reimbursed to accredited representatives, who are undertaking approved work in relation to the partnership process and/or joint policy implementations (as listed in paragraph 25.7).


Trades union activities


25.14 It is the responsibility of the recognised local trades unions to ensure that the time and resources provided in this context are used appropriately. 


25.15 NHS organisations are encouraged to support partnership working by giving reasonable time off during working hours to enable trades union members or representatives to:

  • attend executive committee meetings or annual conference or regional union meetings
  • vote in properly conducted ballots on industrial relations
  • vote in union elections
  • attend meetings to discuss urgent matters relating to the workplace
  • recruit and organise members.

25.16 Local arrangements should specify the circumstances when time off may be refused for either representatives or members. These may include:

  • unreasonable notice periods on behalf of the representatives
  • activities which do not fall within any of the categories in paragraphs 7, 10 and 15
  • activities are not authorised by the union
  • service needs.

25.17 Locally, it may be agreed that it is appropriate in the interests of partnership working and good industrial relations, for trades union representatives to be released from work for regular defined periods each week.


Trades union learning representatives


25.18 Trades union learning representatives are accredited by their unions to support organisations in identifying training needs and ensuring staff access to training. Learning representatives also have the right to reasonable paid time off for undertaking these duties and for relevant training.


Health and safety representatives


25.19 The Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations 1977 provides a legal entitlement for trades union appointed safety representatives to have paid time from their normal work to carry out their functions and undergo training.


Facilities for trades union representatives


25.20 The local partnership should agree the facilities that are provided to representatives of recognised trades unions. It is recommended that local employers provide the following facilities:

  • access to appropriate private accommodation, with storage facilities for documentation, appropriate administrative facilities and access to meeting rooms
  • access to internal and external telephones with due regard given for the need for privacy and confidentiality
  • access to appropriate internal & external mail systems
  • appropriate access to the employer’s intranet and email systems
  • access to appropriate computer facilities
  • access to sufficient notice boards at all major locations for the display of trade union literature and information
  • access for staff representatives to all joint documents relating to the local partnership process
  • based on the geographical nature of the organisation, consideration may need to be given to access to suitable transport facilities
  • backfilling of posts, where practical. The extent to which this would be practical would inevitably be dependent on such factors as the numbers of representatives needing time off, the work areas that would need to be covered and the needs of the service.

25.21 Within NHS Scotland the Staff Governance Standard (which includes the PIN on facilities arrangements) applies.


Amendment number 39: NHS TCS Advisory Notice 01/2018

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