David Cameron’s 3 day boost for trade union organising?
David Cameron is launching a new election policy today, giving everyone working in a firm over 250 employees and all public sector workers, the right to three days’ extra paid leave every year to do voluntary work. He has described the pledge, which covers half the UK workforce as the “clearest demonstration of the Big Society in action.”
“today’s announcement is a double win. It’s good for our economy, as it will help create a better, more motivated workforce. And it’s good for our society too, as it will strengthen communities and the bonds between us.”
It’s something we’d welcome at the TUC. Indeed, we’ve been calling for a public holiday to encourage volunteering (as we’d obviously rather it applied to everyone, than just those in secure employment with large employers) since 2008.
And it’s something the nation’s trade union reps will no doubt welcome as well.
Currently about a quarter of a million people do voluntary work to organise the union in their workplace – we’d say making unions the “clearest demonstration of the Big Society in action”. Three days’ paid work to do this would be a big boost to help their work, building the union, representing and advising members, and running activities such as learning at work or local campaigns. It could also help to get more people active in their unions, knowing they had time set aside to do so, and help unions to build a new generation of reps in many of the workplaces where we’re recognised.
Indeed, many employers (and not just large ones) already do something like this. It’s called ‘facility time’ and many reps get a negotiated amount of time off from their employer – often paid – to do union work. Good employers recognise the value in having an organised worker voice. We’ve found (in research we published with the CBI) that unions save employers up to £143m a year in recruitment costs in this way, and £371m in reduced accidents at work.
So three days’ more facility time would have a benefit to those firms where it’s taken up, and to the wider UK economy.
But there’s a question though as to whether the Conservative pledge might be entirely consistent. The election campaign has already seen posturing on reducing facility time in the civil service, with Cabinet Office Minster Francis Maude claiming that his cuts to facility time would be saving the taxpayer money. Surely offering all public servants three days’ volunteering leave would also cost money – in fact quite a lot more.
Does the new Conservative party pledge mean that they’re giving back with one hand, some of what they’re busy taking with the other?
UPDATE: The plot thickens…
UPDATE @ 11am: Conservative Central Office don’t seem to agree. Guido Fawkes is reporting a Conservative spokesperson as saying “It definitely won’t include unions“
UPDATE @ 12pm: Read the TUC response to the denials. Frances O’Grady says “One wonders whether they will go on to ban help at food banks, outlaw giving advice to workers on zero-hours contracts and stop people volunteering for community wind power projects.”
It now seems the Conservatives are claiming it would only apply to work with registered charities. As such it would seem to be rather more restrictive than the volunteering days already offered by a number of large employers as a staff motivator. If you’re only able to work with a charity, it chops off quite a lot of the “Big Society”, for example:
- Providing an entertainment for care home residents
- Painting your local school (unless it’s a private school with charitable status of course)
- Organising a street party
- Litter clearing around your local area
- Cooking for your church’s lunch club
- Helping out at your local library (unless it was closed in the cuts and replaced by a charity)
Looking at the original plans for Big Society [citation], it’s clear David Cameron envisaged something much bigger then formal registered charities. Or is he willing to sacrifice much of his Big Society big idea just to keep unions out?