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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Time off for trade union duties and activities

If your employer recognises the trade union you are a member of, you have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off for trade union activities. If you are a representative, you may have the right to take a reasonable amount of time for some of your duties.

Entitlement to time off

You are entitled to reasonable time off without pay to take part in trade union activities if you are a member of a trade union which is both:

  • recognised in your workplace by your employer
  • independent

This applies to ordinary members as well as shop stewards and other workplace representatives.

Interactive help

Use our online tool to help with requests for time off work

If you are a shop steward, or equivalent trade union official, of a trade union that is recognised and independent, you are entitled to reasonable paid time off to:

  • carry out your duties as an official
  • receive training relevant to carrying out those duties

If you have been appointed as a learning representative by your trade union, and the trade union is recognised and independent, you are entitled to reasonable paid time off to:

  • receive training to carry out the duties of a learning representative
  • carry out those duties

Reasonable time off

You are entitled to take a reasonable amount of time off work during your normal working hours. Your normal working hours are the hours your employment contract requires you to spend working.

There is no legal definition of ‘reasonable time off’. It is important for trade union members, officials and learning representatives, and employers, to be reasonable and flexible in asking for and handling these requests for time off.

You need to take into account factors such as the:

  • nature of your employer’s business
  • need to do your work
  • needs of your line manager and your co-workers
  • importance of health and safety at work
  • amount of time off you have already taken for trade union duties and activities

If you need to take time off for trade union duties or activities, you should provide your employer with as much notice as possible, giving details of your reason for taking time off and how much time off is required.

The Acas Code of Practice recommends that trade unions and individual employers have formal agreements about time off for trade union activities.

Trade union activities

Examples of trade union activities that you have the right to take reasonable time off are:

  • going to workplace meetings to talk about and vote on negotiations with your employer, such as a pay increase or changes to your terms and conditions
  • going to a meeting with a full-time trade union official away from your workplace to discuss issues at your workplace
  • voting in a trade union election, for example to elect a shop steward
  • consulting a trade union learning representative

As time off for these activities is not usually paid, the meetings and other activities often take place during breaks such as lunchtime.

If you have been appointed or elected as a trade union official, you may wish to go to trade union conferences and meetings, including trade union policy-making committees. You do not have a statutory right to be paid for this time off, though some employers make payments in some circumstances. Your employment contract should explain if you have the right to be paid.

Although industrial action is a trade union activity there is no right to time off for it. However, trade union officials do have the right to time off to take part in negotiations to avoid industrial action.

Trade union duties

If you are a trade union official, for example a shop steward or other workplace representative, the duties you the right to take reasonable time off for include:

  • negotiating terms and conditions of employment
  • helping with disciplinary or grievance procedures on behalf of trade union members (including accompanying workers at disciplinary or grievance hearings)
  • accompanying trade union members to meetings to discuss flexible working requests and requests not to retire
  • negotiating issues about trade union membership
  • discussing issues that affect trade union members (eg redundancies or the sale of the business)

Time off for trade union learning representatives

If you are a trade union learning representative, and your trade union has given notice in writing to your employer that you are a learning representative, you can take reasonable time off to:

  • analyse the learning or training needs of trade union members
  • provide information and advice about learning or training matters
  • arrange or promote learning or training
  • discuss your activities as a learning representative with your employer
  • train as a learning representative

A detailed list of examples of relevant trade union duties and activities is included in the Acas Code of Practice.

What to do if you are not allowed to take time off

If your employer does not give you time off that you think you have a right to, or does not pay you for time off when you think you should have been paid, you can take the matter up with your trade union and may well be able to complain about it by using your employer’s internal grievance procedure.

If you are not happy with the results of this you may be able to make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal.

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