Bill for TfL staff on union duties almost doubles under Sadiq Khan

8 October 2020, 09:05 | Updated: 8 October 2020, 09:26

TfL staff are taking more time off for union activities under Sadiq Khan
TfL staff are taking more time off for union activities under Sadiq Khan. Picture: PA
Matthew Thompson

By Matthew Thompson

The cost of TfL staff taking time off for trade union activity has nearly doubled since Sadiq Khan became Mayor.

The practice, known as "facility time" is when an employee takes time off from their normal role to carry out duties and activities as a trade union representative.

In Boris Johnson's last year as Mayor, TfL spent £4.4m, or 0.23% of its total wage bill on facility time. The body’s latest accounts show that figure is now £8.7m, or 0.4% of the wage bill.

TfL has said in a statement that due to a change in a way the cost has been calculated, the two figures aren't strictly comparable.

Looking at it another way, the entire civil service spends just £10m on facility time. So just over £1m more than TfL, in spite of the fact that it has over 400,000 staff to TfL's 27,000.

TfL's cost is also around 5 times higher than the Government's recommended spend for public sector organisations, which is based on the average cost of facility time in the civil service.

The Conservatives have accused the Mayor of letting the unions run riot. Leader of the GLA Conservatives, Susan Hall said:

“I think it just shows that the unions are in charge. They get these inflated wages for their members, which to be fair is their job, but we shouldn’t allow it to happen. We need a rebalancing somewhere, and this is the sort of thing that Khan has got to start looking into. Taxpayers can’t continually bail out TfL when you look at excessive figures like this.”

As part of its billion pound bailout for TfL, the government has commissioned accounting firm KPMG to review the body’s finances. Although the bailout was overwhelmingly the result of a collapse in passenger revenue, on which TfL is entirely reliant, due to coronavirus.

And there are those who say that facility time is actually a very cost effective way of managing staff relations. The TUC’s London Regional Secretary Sam Guerney said.

“All the evidence shows that facilities time is an incredibly cost effective way of running productive services. When I was a union rep, things which didn’t get sorted out at a workplace level escalated, and that’s when you get problems. So having a sensible amount of facility time, letting union reps engage with management is really important.”

The Mayor was similarly unapologetic when we put our findings to him. A spokesperson said: "The Mayor makes no apologies for ensuring staff are properly represented by trade unions. Trade unions play a vital role in ensuring Londoners are treated fairly at work and have acted to keep staff and passengers safe from the virus.

"Since Sadiq has become Mayor, there has been a 74 per cent reduction in the number of days lost to strike action. This success is a testament to the benefits of listening to the concerns of workers and engaging in constructive dialogue with the trade unions"

TfL said in a statement: “Unions play an important role across London ensuring workers are treated fairly at work. We allow representatives paid time off to carry out union duties, accounting for 0.4 per cent of our total wage bill over the last year. The number of representatives for our 27,000 employees is in line with legislation and guidelines from ACAS.”