The work of shop stewards saves Hartlepool’s hospital trust more than £350,000 a year, new figures have shown.
With the Government’s controversial new Trade Union Bill going through Parliament, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has highlighted the paid time off union officials at health trusts are given and how much they save each trust through their work.
The Government says the changes would protect the public from disruptive action, but unions have agreed to oppose the legislation “every inch of the way”.
The RCN estimates that the work of officials creates potential savings of £355,780 for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust each year.
The organisation says that officials help to reduce the rate of staff turnover, reduce the threat of strikes and help staff to be aware of their employment rights, but that the new bill would see the time off given to union representatives to carry out their duties limited and monitored.
Sarah Dodsworth, regional director of the RCN northern region, said: “For most people being a member of a trade union does not revolve around a desire to call a strike, walk out of work and inconvenience those using the services they provide.
The bill will not save public sector money. Quite the opposite.Sarah Dodsworth, regional director of the Royal College of Nursing
“Much of the attention on the proposed Trade Union Bill currently going through Parliament has so far focussed on plans to crack down on strike action. But within this legislation lies a potentially more damaging proposal which could seriously affect our health service.
“So-called “facility time” – the paid time off given to union representatives to carry out their duties – would be limited and monitored under the proposals as part of a simplistic view that this would save money without considering the benefits.
“This time is used for vital work such as promoting safe working environments, educating staff and helping resolve work-related disputes quickly. Research carried out for the Royal College of Nursing shows that trade unions are saving the NHS at least £100 million a year across the UK through their work in reducing staff turnover and boosting morale.”
Ms Dodsworth added: “Capping the amount of facility time available to union representatives will have a detrimental effect on staff turnover and productivity – something our NHS simply cannot afford.
“The bill will not save public sector money. Quite the opposite.
“Aside from the expense of high staff turnover, undermining union activity could also hit patient safety.
“This must be avoided at all costs.”
In response to the RCN’s findings, Ann Burrell, director of human resources and education for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We work closely with our trade unions to ensure that members are fairly represented.”