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This code revises the Acas Code of Practice on Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities which came into effect on 27 April 2003. This revised code is issued under Section 199 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 and comes into force by order of the Secretary of State on 1 January 2010.

1. Under section 199 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has a duty to provide practical guidance on the time off to be permitted by an employer:

(a)  to a trade union official in accordance with section 168 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992; and

(b)  to a trade union member in accordance with section 170 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

Section 199 of the Act, as amended by the Employment Act 2002, also provides for Acas to issue practical guidance on time off and training for Union Learning Representatives.

This Code, which replaces the Code of Practice issued by Acas in 2003, is intended to provide such guidance. Advice on the role and responsibilities of employee representatives is provided in two Acas Guides: pdf icon Advisory booklet - Trade union representation in the workplace [448kb] and pdf icon Advisory booklet - Non-union representation in the workplace [4Mb].


2. In this Code the term 'Trade union official', is replaced by 'union representative'. In practice there is often confusion between an 'official' and an 'officer' of a union and the term 'representative' is commonly used in practice. Section 119 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 defines an official as '(a) an officer of the union or of a branch or section of the union, or (b) a person elected or appointed in accordance with the rules of the union to be a representative of its members or of some of them, and includes a person so elected or appointed who is an employee of the same employer as the members or one or more of the members whom he is to represent'. Section 181 (1) of the same Act defines a 'representative', for the purposes of sections 181 - 185 of the Act, as 'an official or other person authorised by the union to carry on such collective bargaining'.

In this Code a union representative means an employee who has been elected or appointed in accordance with the rules of the independent union to be a representative of all or some of the union's members in the particular company or workplace, or agreed group of workplaces where the union is recognised for collective bargaining purposes. This is intended to equate with the legal term 'trade union official' for the purposes of this Code.

The term 'union full-time officer' in this Code means a trade union official who is employed by an independent trade union to represent members in workplaces, or groups of workplaces, where the union is recognised for collective bargaining purposes.

A Union Learning Representative is an employee who is a member of an independent trade union recognised by the employer who has been elected or appointed in accordance with the rules of the union to be a learning representative of the union at the workplace.

The background

3. Union representatives have had a statutory right to reasonable paid time off from employment to carry out trade union duties and to undertake trade union training since the Employment Protection Act 1975. Union representatives and members were also given a statutory right to reasonable unpaid time off when taking part in trade union activities. Union duties must relate to matters covered by collective bargaining agreements between employers and trade unions and relate to the union representative's own employer, unless agreed otherwise in circumstances of multi-employer bargaining, and not, for example, to any associated employer. All the time off provisions were brought together in sections 168 - 170 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Section 43 of the Employment Act 2002 added a new right for Union Learning Representatives to take paid time off during working hours to undertake their duties and to undertake relevant training. The rights to time off for the purpose of carrying out trade union duties, and to take time off for training, were extended to union representatives engaged in duties related to redundancies under Section 188 of the amended 1992 Act and to duties relating to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006.

General purpose of the Code

4. The general purpose of the statutory provisions and this Code of Practice is to aid and improve the effectiveness of relationships between employers and trade unions. Employers and unions have a joint responsibility to ensure that agreed arrangements work to mutual advantage by specifying how reasonable time off for union duties and activities and for training will work.

Structure of the Code

5. Section 1 of this Code provides guidance on time off for trade union duties. Section 2 deals with time off for training of trade union representatives and offers guidance on sufficient training for Union Learning Representatives. Section 3 considers time off for trade union activities. In each case the amount and frequency of time off, and the purposes for which and any conditions subject to which time off may be taken, are to be those that are reasonable in all the circumstances. Section 4 describes the responsibilities which employers and trade unions share in considering reasonable time off. Section 5 notes the advantages of reaching formal agreements on time off. Section 6 deals with industrial action and Section 7 with methods of appeal.

6. The annex to this Code reproduces the relevant statutory provisions on time off. To help differentiate between these and practical guidance, the summary of statutory provisions relating to time off which appears in the main text of the Code is in bold type. Practical guidance is in ordinary type. While every effort has been made to ensure that the summary of the statutory provisions included in this Code is accurate, only the courts can interpret the law authoritatively.

Status of the Code

7. The provisions of this Code are admissible in evidence in proceedings before an Employment Tribunal relating to time off for trade union duties and activities. Any provisions of the Code which appear to the Tribunal to be relevant shall be taken into account. However, failure to observe any provision of the Code does not of itself render a person liable to any proceedings.

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