When I took over as Leader of the County Council, I was briefed on many things. One such briefing was on the unions.
I was surprised to see that the council subsidised the Unions. This included, if my memory serves me correctly, paying for some of the union reps time. Instinctively, I did not believe this was a good thing to spend tax payers money on. I think unions have a part to play in the work place but they should be paid for by the people they represent not the rate payer.
However, it was explained to me that union reps carry out a very effective screening function. They help to prevent fictitious or vexatious claims being made by employees against the council. It is often easier for an individual to be told by the union rep that they have not been bullied but have witnessed legitimate strong management style. They provide a variety of services and are helpful in pragmatically helping to resolve issues. If the union reps were not active in this positive way then the cost to HR might rise.
I did discover that the council was paying for school union reps which seems a nonsense given schools are now pretty much self managing.
On the basis that union reps are anecdotally saving money, I decided to park the issue pending a full review of staff terms and conditions and pay. I also parked it because the unions were acting positively.
So what has changed. Well, firstly, the pragmatic, staff focused union rep has been replaced with a much more politically motivated individual. He led a campaign, which he personalised, to prevent the review of terms and conditions. Many of these terms and conditions are extremely generous and unaffordable today.
Secondly, If I understand things correctly, plans to look at pay levels have either been watered down or have disappeared.
The savings are still required. It must now be time to make savings by stop subsidising union activity. If they use space, photocopiers, phones they should pay the costs of them. If they wish to employ union reps they need to pay for them themselves. If school teachers want union reps it is time for them to take responsibility for paying and managing them.