The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has warned that the Trade Union Bill, which is currently working its way through Parliament, could restrict the work of union health and safety representatives.

The Bill's primary focus is on industrial action ballot thresholds, but it does also contain clauses referring to the activities of health and safety reps – described by the TUC as indicative and bureaucratic.

The clauses relate to the length of time given to safety reps to carry out their union activities and duties. The first stipulates that any public sector employer with at least one union health and safety rep will have to record and publish all the time taken and facilities provided. This has been criticised by Hugh Robertson, the TUC's senior health and safety officer, as a bureaucratic exercise adding to workloads because reps are entitled to paid time off under European and UK law.

“This right is absolute. There is nothing that says an employer can decide to restrict it. If representatives need time off they need it, and that’s the end of the matter,” said Robertson.

There are concerns that the Government could use the second clause to water down these current requirements in the future. This clause allows ministers to restrict the right to paid time off by amending the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 using secondary legislation (Regulations or an Order). This has been described by Robertson as “even more dangerous and underhand”.

The Government has attempted to explain their thinking by stating, “We simply want to ensure that the time that trade union reps collectively spend on union duties and activities during working hours at taxpayers’ expense is justifiable and accountable and that it represents value for money.”

The Bill is awaiting a date for its second reading.

For more information, see the:

  • Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations SI 1977/500.