North Lincolnshire Council ends the taxpayer funding of unions

October 01, 2012 2:21 PM

It was announced last week that North Lincolnshire Council is going to end the taxpayer funding of trade unions. The council currently has one employee who works full-time for his union, and this costs council taxpayers £50,000 a year. This is what council leader, Cllr Liz Redfearn had to say:
By removing taxpayers' money from funding trade union posts, we will be able to create 10 new apprenticeship posts. I know many residents struggle to reconcile that taxpayers' money is spent on payments to trade unions, especially when they supply millions of pounds to fund some political parties.

Unions clearly pay an important role in representing their members. However, given that we have historically only subsidised two out of the 10 unions, there is also an issue of fairness. We of course remain committed to working with the unions in the interests of their members.

This is, of course, very welcome news, and something we have been arguing for a long time. When this story was debated on 'The Peter Levy Show', which is broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio Humberside and BBC Radio Lincolnshire, listeners were shocked this practice took place. Somewhere between 80-90% of listeners who contacted the show said this practice should stop. The debate continued on BBC Look North on Wednesday evening and ran into a second day on the radio. Last Thursday, I went up against Cllr Chris Shaw, leader of North East Lincolnshire Council, on 'The Peter Levy Show'.



North East Lincolnshire Council currently has three members of staff who work for unions, at a cost of £98,000. I argued that if unions want full-time representatives, they should pay for it themselves out of their members' subscriptions. Cllr Shaw replied by saying this would mean an increase in union dues, and staff would want a pay rise to cover this.

He then went on to claim paying full-time union officials out of council taxpayers' cash was giving value for money. He informed us there were 78 shop stewards in North East Lincolnshire Council, and if they were to apply for facility time, he would be forced to employ agency staff. He also argued that facility time must be granted in all circumstances. This is simply not true.

In a briefing published last month, we looked at the practice of paying for full-time union officials. Here is an extract from it:
The practice of permitting trade union officials to work full time on union business is one that appears to have arisen in ad hoc arrangements between employees (and especially public sector organisations) and trade unions. It is not required – or even mentioned – in the legislation or in the ACAS Code, although the latter does advise about the desirability of agreements between employers and trade unions concerning practical arrangements for time-off and related requests.

One of the biggest drawbacks of employing full-time officials is that employers do not exercise their legal right to refuse permission to officers to perform certain tasks. By making unions apply for facility time, the amount of time taken off would reduce, as many full-time officials perform functions that are clearly outside the legal framework. Last year I wrote about Dave Mathieson, UNITE convenor at Hull City Council, who addressed a rally of striking public sector workers even though his union was not on strike that day. The law clearly states that if he had requested facility time to do this, it would have been refused, but as Hull City Council allows Mr Mathieson to work full-time for his union at our expense, taxpayers had to pick-up the bill for his speech calling for more industrial action.

If taxpayers are expected to pay for just about all union activities in the public sector, what is the money raised in subscriptions used for? We know the answer to that question. It goes on political campaigning and funding political parties, particularly candidates during elections. As unions appear to have millions of pounds to fund their political campaigns, they should also have enough money to pay for officials who wish to take time off work to carry out their union duties.

It is unions who should be paying - not taxpayers.It was announced last week that North Lincolnshire Council is going to end the taxpayer funding of trade unions. The council currently has one employee who works full-time for his union, and this costs council taxpayers £50,000 a year. This is what council leader, Cllr Liz Redfearn had to say:
By removing taxpayers' money from funding trade union posts, we will be able to create 10 new apprenticeship posts. I know many residents struggle to reconcile that taxpayers' money is spent on payments to trade unions, especially when they supply millions of pounds to fund some political parties.

Unions clearly pay an important role in representing their members. However, given that we have historically only subsidised two out of the 10 unions, there is also an issue of fairness. We of course remain committed to working with the unions in the interests of their members.

This is, of course, very welcome news, and something we have been arguing for a long time. When this story was debated on 'The Peter Levy Show', which is broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio Humberside and BBC Radio Lincolnshire, listeners were shocked this practice took place. Somewhere between 80-90% of listeners who contacted the show said this practice should stop. The debate continued on BBC Look North on Wednesday evening and ran into a second day on the radio. Last Thursday, I went up against Cllr Chris Shaw, leader of North East Lincolnshire Council, on 'The Peter Levy Show'.



North East Lincolnshire Council currently has three members of staff who work for unions, at a cost of £98,000. I argued that if unions want full-time representatives, they should pay for it themselves out of their members' subscriptions. Cllr Shaw replied by saying this would mean an increase in union dues, and staff would want a pay rise to cover this.

He then went on to claim paying full-time union officials out of council taxpayers' cash was giving value for money. He informed us there were 78 shop stewards in North East Lincolnshire Council, and if they were to apply for facility time, he would be forced to employ agency staff. He also argued that facility time must be granted in all circumstances. This is simply not true.

In a briefing published last month, we looked at the practice of paying for full-time union officials. Here is an extract from it:
The practice of permitting trade union officials to work full time on union business is one that appears to have arisen in ad hoc arrangements between employees (and especially public sector organisations) and trade unions. It is not required – or even mentioned – in the legislation or in the ACAS Code, although the latter does advise about the desirability of agreements between employers and trade unions concerning practical arrangements for time-off and related requests.

One of the biggest drawbacks of employing full-time officials is that employers do not exercise their legal right to refuse permission to officers to perform certain tasks. By making unions apply for facility time, the amount of time taken off would reduce, as many full-time officials perform functions that are clearly outside the legal framework. Last year I wrote about Dave Mathieson, UNITE convenor at Hull City Council, who addressed a rally of striking public sector workers even though his union was not on strike that day. The law clearly states that if he had requested facility time to do this, it would have been refused, but as Hull City Council allows Mr Mathieson to work full-time for his union at our expense, taxpayers had to pick-up the bill for his speech calling for more industrial action.

If taxpayers are expected to pay for just about all union activities in the public sector, what is the money raised in subscriptions used for? We know the answer to that question. It goes on political campaigning and funding political parties, particularly candidates during elections. As unions appear to have millions of pounds to fund their political campaigns, they should also have enough money to pay for officials who wish to take time off work to carry out their union duties.

It is unions who should be paying - not taxpayers.

Latest Blogs: