For the first time, the TaxPayers' Alliance can reveal the scale of the taxpayer-funded subsidy given to Trade Unions through "facility time". Among the key findings from the TaxPayers' Alliance investigation, via Freedom of Information Requests to all government departments, public sector organisations and "arms length" bodies, are:
- Northern Ireland Health Trusts provided "facility time" to the value of £1.5 million in 2013-14. This has a knock-on effect, as frontline staff need to be replaced by alternate - often agency, or "locum" - staff, resulting in taxpayers paying two individuals for one job
- There are wide discrepancies between different departments and similar organisations. The Belfast, North Eastern and Southern Education Boards provided "facility time" equivalent to £90,000 combined in 2013-14, yet the Western regional alone provided a subsidy of £113,000
- The NI Housing Executive afforded facility time equivalent to the value of £350,000 in 2013-14, Translink over £175,000 and NI Water over £80,000
- Despite many of Northern Ireland's public sector organisations automatically deducting the cost of collection for Trade Union dues - a process known as "check off" - only three organisations charge a fee to the Union for this service. This means taxpayers are, in addition to facility time, subsidising the Union's administration costs.
A full definition of "facility time" and the rationale for our calculations is included in the Notes to Editors.
Commenting on the research, David Hoey, co-ordinator for the TaxPayers' Alliance in Northern Ireland, said:
"The size of the public sector in Northern Ireland is far greater than in any other part of the UK, and taxpayers will be surprised that so many staff who should be working for them are in fact working for trade unions. While some time is of course justified, the scale and cost of facility time across Northern Ireland, where it is monitored at all, seems to go well beyond what anybody would consider reasonable at a time when we're trying to make necessary savings.
"Trade Unions are valuable contributors to our public debate and at their best can be a constructive force for better public services. However, taxpayers shouldn't be subsidising them."