Public sector trade union facility time


Trade union representatives have been entitled to take time off to carry out union ‘duties’ since the Employment Protection Act of 1975. Under the same legislation, they are also entitled to unpaid time off to undertake union ‘activities’. Union duties and activities both fall under the remit of a union representative, meaning some representatives are paid for carrying out union activities and duties.

Facility time taken by public sector employees must therefore be funded by taxpayers. That means taxpayers are forced to pay for trade union representation when unions raise significant amounts through membership subscriptions within public sector organisations.

From 1 April 2017, public sector employers were required to collate and publish data on the amount and cost of facility time within their organisation. Prior to this point there was no obligation to do so, resulting in limited figures being available to scrutinise. The Trade Union Act 2016 gave ministers reserve powers to exercise regarding facility time. These extend to the publication of information; costs to public funds; the nature of work carried out; whether the work is relevant to the amount of facility time and any other matters considered relevant.[1]

These powers could be used to enforce a cap on the proportion public sector employers spend on facility time. Guide figures have been used for Whitehall departments in the past, such as not spending more than 0.1 per cent of their total pay bill on facility time,[2] and restricting trade union representatives from spending more than 50 per cent of their time carrying out union duties and activities.[3] To limit the cost to taxpayers, this framework should be extended to all public sector employers and the spending cap reduced to the current civil service average of 0.05 per cent.

This research shows the number of trade union representatives in public sector organisations, their cost to taxpayers and how many are spending more than 50 per cent of their working hours on facility time.


Key findings

  • Public sector trade union facility time cost £98,126,371 in 2020-21, the highest value since the Cabinet Office began publishing the data. This is a £23.5 million or 31 per cent increase on the 2019-20 figure.

  • The average cost of facility time per public sector organisation increased by almost 28 per cent between 2018-19 and 2020-21. In cash terms, this is a rise of £17,461 from £62,839 to £80,300.

  • There were a total of 23,545 public sector trade union representatives in 2020-21, an increase of almost 2,000 or 8.7 per cent on the 2019-20 total. Of these, 1,012 spent 100 per cent of their working hours on facility time, with 52 per cent of these working for local authorities and 25 per cent for the NHS.

  • There were 460 public sector organisations which had a percentage of pay spent on facility time above 0.05 per cent and 1,509 trade union representatives spending more than 50 per cent of their working hours on facility time.

  • Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust had the largest facility time bill, with their 17 trade union representatives costing £6,721,600 in 2020-21.

  • Transport for London had the second largest facility time bill: their 880 representatives cost £6,400,000 in 2020-21.

  • The Department for Work and Pensions had the greatest number of trade union representatives with 1,227, and a cost of £552,593 in 2020-21. All of these spent between one and 50 per cent of their working hours on facility time.

  • NHS Lothian had 40 trade union representatives who spent 100 per cent of their working hours on facility time, the most of any public sector organisation in 2020-21.





[1] HM Government, Trade Union Act 2016: Section 14, 2016, (accessed 31 May 2022).

[2] Cabinet Office, Consultation on reform to Trade Union facility time and facilities in the Civil Service, 8 October 2012, p. 10.

[3] Ibid, p. 5.

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