The Government has announced a consultation into the provision of Facility Time within the Civil Service.
I declare interest as a member and former rep for DWP Eastern, DWP Cambridgeshire and DWP Norfolk and Suffolk within the PCS.
The role of a union rep is vitally important. In my brief time as a rep, I found that the majority of my work was related to helping staff with their problems. It might have been a bullying and harassment case; a grievance against a warning wrongly given or just sitting with a member talking to a manager about their sick absences.
The work of a union rep is vitally important to making sure that people are treated fairly and properly, upholding the principle of natural justice.
What we have to differentiate between, and the consultation makes this absolutely clear, is Trade Union Duties and Trade Union Activities.
TU Duties including representing members and TU Activities include branch meetings.
Both of these are proper legitimate reasons for a rep to take time off. The consultation is looking at whether it is appropriate to pay reps for the time off they take when they take part in their TU Activities. The consultation goes so far as to say that paid time for Duties will still continue. And rightly so.
The Civil Service code states that paid Civil Servants must be impartial and serve the government of the day whoever it might be.
It also gives rules and restrictions on who can take part in political activities for political parties such as the Liberal Democrats. If you are a Senior Executive Officer or higher, then you are barred from taking part in campaigning or standing for election to a local authorities. If you are below that grade, you must ask permission and do it in your own time. If you are adopted as a candidate for a parliamentary election, you must resign your post and apply for reinstatement.
This question of impartiality has already meant that I have objected to paying the political levy part of my monthly sub.
Other unions use their political levy as a membership of the Labour Party. PCS is not in anyway affiliated, however, in a recent ballot, PCS has agreed to fund candidates at an election who are opposed to the Coalition Government's cuts, which could include funding MPs such as John McDonnell but also Socialists. Despite assurances that it would only happen rarely, there is sufficient lack of transparency in the decision making process that it is a matter of when, not if.
I would therefore be funding candidates who would be in direct opposition to candidates from the party of which I belong to.
It is clear that the PCS as a whole have set themselves down the path of active campaigning opposition to Government policy through branch meetings and conference. As you should be doing that in your own time, it is indeed time to reconsider paying reps for their Trade Union Activities time.
*edited 18 July 2012 @ 18:29 with thanks to Howard for his constructive commentary on this post*