Promoting partnership working in the NHS

Facilities time

Time off for Trade Unions is crucial for partnership working

The Social Partnership Forum understands and values the positive contribution that partnership working makes to the delivery of quality health and social care.  There is a growing body of evidence to show that partnership working between employers and trade unions is an effective way to support the workforce, to ensure that staff feel valued, and are involved and consulted on the decisions that affect them in the workplace. 

Trade union representatives undertake a variety of roles within an organisation – working with managers, communicating and consulting with staff, resolving problems and conflicts at work, jointly developing workplace policies, promoting workplace learning, resolving health and safety issues, handling disciplinary and grievance matters, and much more.  To be effective, union representatives need to have reasonable paid time off from their normal job to enable them to undertake the role.

The SPF urges all organisations to agree appropriate time-off and facilities arrangements so that the trade union representatives are able to participate in local partnership activities.

Sara Gorton, SPF Trade Union Side Chair says:

 "Appropriately agreed, protected time-off and facilities for trade union representatives to undertake their role, is absolutely fundamental to delivering effective partnership working. It is not a luxury, but a necessity, and needs to be recognised as such."

Daniel Mortimer, NHS Employers says:

"Trade union colleagues play a vital role in supporting their members and in engaging with their employer, and most do this alongside their day job in our services. Proper, clear and fair facilities time agreements are therefore hugely important in making partnership working a day to day reality."

The model time off and facilities agreement provides a framework for drafting a comprehensive agreement on time off for trade union duties and activities. It can be adapted to reflect the size and nature of the organisation.

Agreements on time off and facilities vary widely. Some are no more than general statements of principle outlining flexible time off arrangements. Others are highly detailed, laying out exact amounts of time off for named union officers. The example agreement charts a middle course and covers all of the areas which should be included in a time off agreement and suggests contract language based on ‘best practice’. 

Read about genuine partnership working between employers and trade unions at the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). When all NHS IT and information systems delivery functions were brought together into the new HSCIC in 2013, over 2,000 staff from 13 different organisations transferred in.

Rachael Allsop, HSCIC Director of HR, who oversaw this transformation, said: "Regular, open and transparent discussions greatly helped with this process as did clarity on the agenda and processes that were being pursued. The involvement of national officers at a local level was particularly beneficial in terms of the development of constructive working relationships."

She added: "A commitment to partnership working at Board level amongst the HSCIC management team and within the TUs recognised by the HSCIC, enabled by the use of facility time for TU representatives, was also vital to the success of this work."  

Agenda for Change terms and conditions handbook - Section 25: Time off and facilities for trades union representatives plus Annex A1: Principles and best practice of partnership working

ACAS Code of Practice – Time off for trade union duties and activities

NatCen Report: The Value of Trade Union Facility Time

Warwick Business School: ‘A research paper from Warwick Business School, Unite trade union, Royal Holloway, University of London and Cass Business School has shown that having a union representative in the workplace improves job quality for employees by reducing their levels of stress, improving their work-life balance, and improving their wellbeing. Read more about the research in a press release from Warwick Business School, published 13 March 2015.’


The Trade Union (Facility Time Publication Requirements) Regulations 2017 took effect on 1 April 2017. These require NHS employers to publish specific information on their website on use of facility time in their organisation. For more information see the NHS Employers website.

In May 2019, the government published trade union facility time data guidance. This gives information on which organisations are required to report and publish facility time data, the data required and when and how it should be reported.