When the occasional controversies break out about time off work for union representatives the two sides of the argument often trade anecdotes.
The sixth Workplace Employee Relations Study (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-2011-workplace-employment-relations-study-wers) offers us large scale empirical evidence based upon interviews with the most senior representative in each workplace surveyed.
It says something about the nature of debate around trade union activity that WERS deals first of all (as I shall), with the question of how much time we spend and whether we are paid;
One in six senior union representatives (17%) carried out their role on a full-time basis.
On average, union representatives spent 13 hours per week on their role with no signifcant change since 2004.
These figures are an overall average, and 51% of union representatives spent less than 5 hours a week on their role.
In the public sector, 19% of senior union representatives were spending all of their time on union activities, 64% were paid part-time reps and 17% were unpaid part-time reps.
This compared with 12%, 80% and 7% in the private sector.
(It's interesting - and worrying - that there are union reps getting no paid time off! And alarming indeed that this proportion is higher in the public sector, where there is higher density and better organisation. We had better explore this further when the full reports from WERS become available later in the year).
Part-time union representatives in the public sector that were paid spent an average of 10 hours per week on their role, compared with 6 hours for their counterparts in the private sector.
What WERS doesn't tell you, but I will, is that many of us, whether paid full time or part time for our union work, also do a lot of additional unpaid time on work which we only do because of our trade union role (and I don't mean blogging on the train home...)
The best way to defend what we have is almost certainly to ask for more, across the whole movement. We also need transparent accountability to our members for every hour of paid trade union time (and if that means the same amount of transparency to the employers, or the Tax-Dodgers Alliance, then so be it).
Tomorrow - time permitting - I'll blog about what WERS tells us about the issues with which we are dealing in the workplace, with the time we have.
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