The presence of unions in workplaces could be saving employers in the private and public sectors as much £701m a year or £2m a day, according to a report published today (Tuesday) by the TUC.

The report Facility Time for Union Reps: Separating fact from fiction, says that in workplaces where there are union reps negotiating with employers on behalf of their colleagues, there are significant cost savings to be had. These come in the form of more productive, and better trained, workforces, safer workplaces, fewer cases taken to employment tribunal – so as staff tend to stay in post for longer, less is spent on recruitment and retention.

Written by Gregor Gall, Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Hertfordshire, the report demonstrates the value of union reps to the UK economy, not only helping improve workplace conditions but also enabling private and public sector employers to keep costs down, and so deliver huge savings to the taxpayer.

The report notes that the government is coming under pressure from right-wing backbench MPs and associated groups who want ministers to limit the amount of time reps can spend improving workplace conditions and negotiating with employers.

The TUC report says that a good deal of the work of union reps takes place in their own time – 16 per cent of union reps said that less than a quarter of the time they spent on union work was paid for by their employer. And it calculates that for every £1 spent on union facility time in the public sector, between £3 and £9 is returned in accrued benefits.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘The highly exaggerated and wholly inaccurate figures being bandied around by groups and individuals on the right as to the cost of unions in the public sector are supposedly borne out of a desire to save money. In reality they are nothing more than a thinly-veiled attack on unions and their ability to represent workers across the public sector.

‘Yet our research shows that there are huge benefits to employers – in both the public and private sectors – to be had as a result of the funding of facility time for union reps. Successive governments have recognised the moral, legal and economic case for supporting workplace reps – ministers would be wise to do likewise and avoid what appear to be ideologically-driven announcements designed to appease right wing backbenchers.’

An appendix to Facility Time for Union Reps: Separating fact from fiction contains contributions from a number of employers in the public sector who talk positively of the paid time off given to union reps and the benefits this brings to their organisations – improving workforce skills, advising on workplace safety, resolving at an early stage problems that occur at work, offering ideas on how to improve ways of working or trying to minimise the impact of spending cuts:

* Liz Chandler, Merseytravel’s Director of Corporate Development, said: ‘We greatly value the contribution made by union reps and the relationship that managers have with them. Management and reps have worked together on improving the skills of our workforce, significantly improving the professional profile of the workforce as well as the life skills of the individuals involved. This has helped make our organisation a safer place to work and created a culture in which management and unions work together productively to meet the challenges we face. We regard the cost of paid time off as an investment on which the organisation has had a significant return, reducing sickness and grievances, supporting succession planning and improvements to customer care.’

* Ian Jerams, Chief Operating Officer, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘Effective and efficient services require a workforce that is supported to deliver their very best. The provision of facility time for staff reps and stewards helps to ensure the timely availability of representation, leading to the early resolution of staffing issues and ultimately to better outcomes for the workforce, employers and for the people benefiting from the service.’

* Barry Rowland, Chief Executive, Newcastle City Council, said: ‘Newcastle City Council has sustained excellent industrial relations through an extended period of unprecedented change. The full support of unions and the involvement of workers from across the organisation has been instrumental in helping us achieve budget savings of £44m in the current financial year and to develop proposals to save a further £30m next year. Many of these proposals arise from the innovation and ideas of our staff, and the contribution of union workplace reps has been an important part of that success.’