The rights outlined on this page relate to the legal situation in Britain and Northern Ireland. The situation in the Republic of Ireland is often very different and often established by agreement and not statute. Members in the Republic of Ireland should refer to Workplace rights (ROI) and contact the TSSA Helpdesk if they need support.
Protection against dismissal and victimisation
This is especially important for reps in workplaces where TSSA is not recognised or where employers are openly hostile to trade union activities.
As a TSSA rep, you may be able to complain to a tribunal if your employer victimises you for taking part in trade union activity. This can be quite complicated; the legal protection, such as it is, only applies to trade union activity being pursued in reps' own time (i.e. in breaks and outside working hours).
However, protection against dismissal, including selection for redundancy, because of union membership or activity is stronger. This is automatically unfair and there is no need for any qualifying periods of service. It is not necessary to prove that the employer is anti-trade union – the tribunal will only look at what actually caused the employer to dismiss.
Your rights will be different, depending on whether your employer has a formal recognition agreement with TSSA.
Rights where TSSA is recognised
If TSSA is formally recognised by your employer, as a rep you are entitled by law to certain working arrangements to assist you in doing your job. These are often called 'facilities' and usually include the right to:
- reasonable time off to do your job as a rep, and to be trained for that role
- access to telephones, computers and email and secure office or filing space
- use of noticeboards
- access to information
In most cases, this will be covered by a written facilities agreement made between the employer and TSSA (and possibly other unions). However, a TSSA rep is legally entitled to facilities whether a written agreement exists or not.
Rights as a rep Time off
TSSA reps have the right to paid time off for trade union duties and training and unpaid time off for union activities
These rights come from the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Practical guidance on how the law should apply is laid down by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in their Code of Practice on Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities.
The term 'trade union duties' covers all matters relating to collective bargaining and individual representation. This includes:
- meetings with your employers to discuss terms and conditions, re-organisations and redundancy, work allocation and duties.
- time to prepare for these meetings.
- individual grievances and disciplines.
- keeping members informed about negotiations.
The ACAS code stresses the importance of employers giving paid time off for reps to be trained as soon as possible after they have been elected, and for further updating training in specialist areas and where legislative change may affect industrial relations.
Employers should also agree to you taking unpaid time off for 'trade union activities', such as holding a meeting with members, producing a newsletter or recruitment.
The better employers understand the important role reps play in good industrial relations and they agree to giving reps paid time off for some of these activities too. It's worth asking your employers for this leeway.
Often facilities agreements will state you are entitled to paid and unpaid time off, and sometimes specify a fixed amount of time per week or month. Try to be co-operative with your managers and plan ahead.
If you are requesting time off, give them as much notice and detail as possible. If you are asking for time off for training try to give your boss a few weeks' notice.
When you need to call meetings of members in working time or in your workplace, advise your managers which groups are to be involved. Try to hold these meetings towards the end of a shift or the working week, or before or after meal breaks.
Any requests for time off must be 'reasonable'. There are no strict guidelines on this, but employers may be legally entitled to refuse time off if it means they will have difficulty providing a service or maintaining production, if safety and security could be affected or if the amount of time or frequency cannot be justified.
However, if you are regularly refused time off by your employer, you should seek advice from the Helpdesk or your TSSA Negotiations Officer.
As a rep, you are entitled to access to facilities such as meeting space, telephones and use of noticeboards.
The ACAS Code recommends employers consider making facilities available to workplace reps so they can perform their duties efficiently. It suggests that, where resources permit, facilities could include:
- accommodation for meetings.
- access to a telephone and other office equipment.
- use of noticeboards.
- the use of dedicated office space (if the volume of work justifies it).
Again, details of what is available may be in an agreement, if one exists. If it doesn't, then try to get your employer to agree one.
Rights to information
Reps in recognised workplaces have specific rights to information for collective bargaining.
The ACAS Code of Practice on Disclosure of Information to Trade Unions for Collective Bargaining Purposes gives guidance on what information employers should be prepared to disclose to union representatives. This includes information on:
- pay and benefits
- conditions of service
- financial matters
In addition, TSSA has the right to be consulted over issues of redundancy and re-organisation.
Employers should make information available as soon as possible, and present it in an understandable form. Where information cannot be provided, employers should tell you why not.
If an employer refuses to provide information, TSSA can complain to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), an independent arbitration body.
Rights where TSSA is not recognised
If your employer doesn't formally recognise TSSA, you don't have the same legal rights to time off and facilities. However, you do have some legal rights which can be used to help build up TSSA's presence in your workplace.
Representing members in hearings
The Employment Relations Act 1999 gives all workers the right to be accompanied to grievance and disciplinary hearings by a fellow worker, called a 'companion'.
You can volunteer to act as a companion for members at grievance and disciplinary hearings, even if you're not recognised as a TSSA rep by your employer.
As a companion, you have the right to take time off to:
- prepare for the hearing
- attend the hearing
- confer with the member
Strictly speaking, this is not a right to 'representation'. However, as a companion you can address a hearing and confer with your member, but you can't answer for him or her.
If you're not available to act as a companion on the date of the hearing, the member involved can suggest another date within five working days and the employer has to postpone the original hearing. Also, you have a right not to be victimised for acting as a companion for a colleague.