Is there a limit to how much time off an employer must allow a union representative to take?

Employers must allow union representatives as much time off as is reasonable for them to carry out their union duties. When considering what is reasonable, employers need to balance the right that the union representatives have to conduct their duties with the need for the efficient running of the organisation. However, efficiency and business needs should not be used as an excuse to prevent union representatives carrying out their duties.

To assist employers to achieve the balance, the Acas code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities states that factors that may be relevant to the reasonableness of time off include:

  • the size of the organisation and the number of workers;
  • the production process;
  • the need to maintain a service to the public; and
  • the need for safety and security at all times.

For example, it may be reasonable for an employer to ask a representative to carry out his or her union activities at a particular stage of the production process, or time of day, when it will have less of an impact on production or the service provided. It may be reasonable to expect a large employer to be more flexible in allowing time off than a small employer that lacks resources to cover the work of the representative.

The code also recommends that employers should consider factors affecting how easy it is for representatives to communicate with and represent members, for example whether or not they work different shifts or at different locations, or have disabilities or special requirements. The more complex and time consuming it is for union representatives to carry out their duties, the more time off they should be allowed.