Trade union learning representatives’ rights to time off

Legislation in 2003 extended employees’ rights to time off work if they are union learning representatives. Allen & Overy’s associate Linda Okeke examines employees’ rights to attend training

Section 43 of Part 4 of the Employment Act 2002, which came into force on 27 April 2003, introduced a new statutory right to time off with pay for trade union learning representatives (ULRs) to ensure they are adequately trained to carry out their duties.

Why has this right been given?

The Government believes both employers and employees will benefit from the right because ULRs are an inexpensive source of expert advice for union members and employers. It also believes this right will not place a high administrative burden on employers.

The right is a key element of the Government’s drive to improve the quantity and quality of workforce development, particularly for those who generally miss out on training at present, for example, older workers, ethnic minorities, and part-timers.

What are the key features of the Act?

The employee must be a member of an independent trade union recognised by the employer and a learning representative of the trade union.

Reasonable rights to paid time off for ULRs, which are broadly equivalent to the rights enjoyed by shop stewards and other lay union representatives.

Reasonable paid time off for carrying out any of the following activities in relation to their union members:

– Analysing their members’ learning or training needs

– Providing their members with information and advice about learning or training matters

– Arranging learning or training for their members

– Promoting the value of learning or training to their members

– Consulting the employer about carrying out these activities

– Preparing for carrying out any of the above activities

– Undergoing training relevant to their functions as a ULRs

The trade union will need to give the employer notice that the ULRs will undergo training, and confirm in writing that training has been undertaken within six months.

What constitutes reasonable time off and sufficient training is referred to in the Code of Practice on Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities (Including Guidance on Time Off for Union Learning Representatives) issued by Acas on 27 April 2003.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

An employee can present a complaint to an employment tribunal that their employer has failed to permit them to take time off. The tribunal may make a declaration to that effect and may award compensation to the employee.

Where can I find more details?

See the DTI website: Employment Act 2002 at http://www.dti.gov.uk/er/employ/index.htm#Time and the Acas website: Code of Practice on Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities (Including Guidance on Time Off for Union Learning Representatives) published in April 2003 at http://www.acas.org.uk/publications/pdf/CP03.pdf

The Government is expected to publish a guide titled Employer’s Guide to Union Learning Representatives later in the year.

Also see A guide to rights for time off for religious observance at www.personneltoday.com/pt_news/news_daily_det.asp?liArticleID=16580 or www.personneltoday.com/lawguides

Linda Okeke is an associate in international law firm Allen & Overy’s employment, pensions and incentives department.

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