Paid union time: Francis Maude seeks Civil Service change
Urgent reform is needed to the way civil servants take time off for union activities, Francis Maude has said.
The Cabinet Office minister said it was not right "that taxpayers fund full-time union representatives who haven't done a Civil Service job in years".
The government has launched a consultation on "facility time", which it says costs about £36m a year.
Unions said the small proportion of officials' time spent this way was justified by the benefits it brought.
The government wants to reduce the overall amount of paid time spent by civil servants on trade union business.
It says there are at least 6,800 union representatives who are paid to carry out trade union duties during working hours, with 250 of these working full-time on union business.
Mr Maude said: "We believe that trade unions play an important role in the modern workplace, but it's time to redress the balance between supporting effective engagement with employee representatives and providing better value for the taxpayer.
"For too long, trade union facility time and paid time off for union work on health and safety and other activities was poorly monitored and inadequately controlled.
"That's why we want to ensure that the civil service has in place the same controls and monitoring that the best private businesses have."'Politicking'
The government wants to change the current arrangements to "reflect modern working practices" and make unpaid union time the default position.
The consultation will look at developing a system for monitoring facility time, limiting the practice of people spending 100% of time on union activities and reducing the overall amount of facility time undertaken.
But the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) - one of the main civil service unions - says facility time accounts for just 0.2% of staff time across the civil service
The union said: "The very small proportion of work time that is allowed is more than justified by the huge organisational and economic benefits that it brings and it is absolutely right that this is publicly funded."
It says TUC research suggests representatives in the public sector donate 100,000 hours of unpaid time every week and for every pound spent on facility time in the public sector, between £3 and £9 is returned in benefits, including fewer tribunals and fewer workplace injuries.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka added: "We are more than happy to engage in a rational discussion about the issues, and this must include a thorough analysis of all the benefits.
"If ministers were serious about using reps' time wisely and efficiently, they would look no further than the incredibly wasteful system a previous Tory government set up that means we have to hold more than 200 sets of negotiations over pay and conditions."
Earlier this year, Conservative MP Jesse Norman proposed changing the law so that money earned by public sector staff while working as union officials should be returned.
He described some of their activities as "politicking, pure and simple". But Labour argued that their duties benefited colleagues and saved the taxpayer money in the long run.
Unions and civil servants have eight weeks to take part in the consultation.