SSTA Guidance - Trade Union Facilities


The ACAS Code of Practice ‘Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities’ came into effect on 1 January 2010. This revised code was issued under Section 199 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. ACAS has a duty to provide practical guidance on the role, the responsibilities and time off to be permitted by an employer.

In the Code the term ‘trade union official’ is replaced by ‘union representative’. A ‘representative’, is an official or other person authorised by the union. A union representative means an employee who has been elected or appointed in accordance with the rules of the independent union for collective bargaining purposes.

The Background

Union representatives have had a statutory right to reasonable paid time off from employment to carry out trade union duties and to undertake trade union training since the Employment Protection Act 1975. Union duties must relate to matters covered by collective bargaining agreements between employers and trade unions. Employers and unions have a joint responsibility to ensure that agreed arrangements work to mutual advantage by specifying how reasonable time off for union duties and activities and for training will work.

Time off for Trade Union Duties

Union representatives undertake a variety of roles in collective bargaining and in working with management, communicating with union members, liaising with their trade union and in handling individual disciplinary and grievance matters on behalf of employees. There are positive benefits for employers, employees and for union members in encouraging the efficient performance of union representatives’ work, for example in aiding the resolution of problems and conflicts at work.


Employees who are union representatives of an independent trade union recognised by their employer are to be permitted reasonable time off during working hours to carry out certain trade union duties.

The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 regulation 4(2)(a) requires that employers allow union health and safety representatives paid time, as is necessary, during working hours, to perform their functions.

Examples of Trade Union Duties

Trade union representatives should be allowed to take reasonable time off for duties concerned with negotiations or for duties concerned with other functions related to or connected with the subjects of collective bargaining.

The subjects connected with collective bargaining may include one or more of the following:

  • terms and conditions of employment, or the physical conditions in which workers are required to work. Examples could include: pay; hours of work; holidays and holiday pay; sick pay arrangements; pensions; learning and training; equality and diversity; notice periods; the working environment; operation of digital equipment and other machinery;
  • engagement or non engagement, or termination or suspension of employment or the duties of employment, of one or more workers. Examples could include: recruitment and selection policies; human resource planning; redundancy and dismissal arrangements;
  • allocation of work or the duties of employment as between workers or groups of workers. Examples could include: job grading; job evaluation; job descriptions; flexible working practices; work-life balance;
  • matters of discipline. Examples could include: disciplinary procedures; arrangements for representing or accompanying employees at internal interviews; arrangements for appearing on behalf of trade union members, or as witnesses, before agreed outside appeal bodies or employment tribunals;
  • trade union membership or non-membership. Examples could include: representational arrangements; any union involvement in the induction of new workers;
  • facilities for trade union representatives. Examples could include any agreed arrangements for the provision of: accommodation; equipment; names of new workers to the union;"
  • machinery for negotiation or consultation and other procedures. Examples could include arrangements for: collective bargaining at the employer and/or multi-employer level; grievance procedures; joint consultation; communicating with members; communicating  with  other  union  representatives and  union  full-time  officers  concerned  with collective bargaining with the employer.
  • The duties of a representative of a recognised trade union must be connected with or related to negotiations or the performance of functions both in time and subject matter. Reasonable time off may be sought, for example, to: prepare for negotiations, including attending relevant meetings; inform members of progress and outcomes; prepare for meetings with the employer.

Trade union duties will also be related to the receipt of information and consultation related to the handling of collective redundancies where an employer is proposing to dismiss as redundant employees at one establishment. But also including the negotiations with a view to entering an agreement

Payment for Time off for Trade Union Duties

An employer who permits union representatives time off for trade union duties must pay them for the time off taken. The employer must pay the amount that the union representative would have earned had they worked during the time off taken.

Time off to accompany at Disciplinary or Grievance Hearings

Trade union representatives are statutorily entitled to take a reasonable amount of paid time off to accompany a worker at a disciplinary or grievance hearing so long as they have been certified by their union as being capable of acting as a worker’s companion. Time off for a union representative or a certified person to accompany a worker of another employer is a matter for voluntary agreement between the parties concerned.

Training of union representatives in aspects of employment relations and employee development

Training is important for union representatives to enable them to carry out their duties effectively. Training should be available both to newly appointed and to more established union representatives. Union representatives are to be permitted reasonable time off during working hours to undergo training in aspects of industrial relations relevant to the carrying out of their trade union duties.


Training should be in aspects of employment relations relevant to the duties of a union representative. There is no one recommended syllabus for training, as a union representative’s duties will vary according to: the collective bargaining arrangements at the place of work; the structure of the union; the role of the union representative; the handling of proposed collective redundancies or the transfer of undertakings.

Time off for trade union activities

To operate effectively and democratically, trade unions need the active participation of members. It can also be very much in employers’ interests that such participation is assured and help is given to promote effective communication between union representatives and members in the workplace. A member of a trade union is to be permitted reasonable time off during working hours to take part in any trade union activity.


The activities of a trade union member can be, for example: attending  workplace  meetings  to  discuss  and  vote  on  the  outcome  of  negotiations  with  the employer. Where relevant, and with the employer’s agreement, this can include attending such workplace meetings at the employer’s neighbouring locations; meeting full-time officers to discuss issues relevant to the workplace; voting in union elections.

Where the member is acting as a representative of a recognised union, activities can be, for example, taking part in: branch, area or regional meetings of the union where the business of the union is under discussion; meetings of official policy-making bodies such as the executive committee or annual conference; meetings with full-time officers to discuss issues relevant to the workplace. There is no right to time off for trade union activities which themselves consist of industrial action.

The responsibilities of employers and trade unions

Employers, trade unions, union representatives and line managers should work together to ensure that time off provisions, including training, operate effectively and for mutual benefit. Union representatives need to be able to communicate with management, each other, their trade union and employees. To do so they need to be able to use appropriate communication media and other facilities. The amount and frequency of time off should be reasonable in all the circumstances.

For time off arrangements to work satisfactorily trade unions should: ensure that union representatives are aware of their role, responsibilities and functions; inform management, in writing, as soon as possible of appointments or resignations of union representatives; ensure that union representatives receive any appropriate written credentials promptly; ensure that employers receive details of the functions of union representatives where they carry out special duties or functions.

Employers should ensure that, where necessary, work cover and/or work load reductions are provided when time off is required. This can include the allocation of duties to other employees, rearranging work to a different time or a reduction in workloads.

employers should, where practical, make available to union representatives the facilities necessary for them to perform their duties efficiently and communicate effectively with their members

Where resources permit the facilities should include: accommodation for meetings which could include provision for ULRs and a union member(s) to meet to discuss relevant training matters; access to a telephone and other communication media used or permitted in the workplace such as email, intranet and internet; the use of noticeboards; where the volume of the union representative’s work justifies it, the use of dedicated office space; confidential space where an employee involved in a grievance or disciplinary matter can meet their representative or to discuss other confidential matters; access to members who work at a different location; access to e-learning tools where computer facilities are available.

Employers must respect the confidential and sensitive nature of communications between union representatives and their members and trade union. They should not normally carry out regular or random monitoring of union emails. In the context of the Data Protection Act 1998, whether a person is a member of a trade union or not is defined as sensitive personal data.


Trade union representatives and members requesting time off to pursue their duties or activities, should provide management, especially their line manager, with as much notice as practically possible concerning: the  purpose  of  such  time  off,  while  preserving  personal  confidential  information relating to individuals in grievance or disciplinary matters; the intended location; the timing and duration of time off required.

Union representatives should minimise business disruption by being prepared to be as flexible as possible in seeking time off. Equally, employers should recognise the mutual obligation to allow union representatives to   undertake their duties.

In addition, union representatives who request paid time off to undergo relevant training should: give at least a few weeks’ notice to management of nominations for training courses; provide details of the contents of the training course.

For their part line managers should be familiar with the rights and duties of union representatives regarding time off. They should be encouraged to take reasonable steps as necessary in the planning and management of representatives’ time off and the provision of cover or work load reduction, taking into account the legitimate needs of such union representatives to discharge their functions and receive training efficiently and effectively.