Trade union leave - time off for trade union duties and activities

This page sets out the kinds of work that represent trade union activities, trade union duties and provides links to relevant guidance and legislation.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 30 September 2019
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Under legislation, the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992, members and representatives of a recognised trade union have a right to reasonable time off work for carrying out trade union duties and/or activities.

The general rule is that paid time off work is allowed for trade union duties, whereas there is no entitlement to pay when time is taken off work for trade union activities. These rights are applicable irrespective of length of service.


All BMA members - trade union duties

BMA members have a statutory right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to take part in certain activities of the BMA. There is, however, no requirement to be paid for such time off work although many employers will provide paid time for this work within a doctor's job plan, or as professional leave.

The trade union activities for which a BMA member who is not also a BMA representative may take reasonable unpaid time off work include:

  • attending workplace meetings to discuss negotiations representatives are undertaking with the employer,
  • meeting full time union officials to discuss issues,
  • voting in union elections, and
  • having access to services provided by a union representative.

This would not include meetings held whilst on strike.


BMA representatives – trade union duties and activities

Employees who are elected BMA representatives have the right to a reasonable amount of paid time off work to enable them to carry out specific trade union duties. A member of the BMA who is not a representative does not have this right. Elected representatives maintain the right to reasonable unpaid time off for trade union activities.

Trade union duties include those concerned with:

  • negotiations,
  • collective bargaining,
  • related issues,

at both the local employer and employer associations’ levels (for example, with NHS Employers).

Examples of such duties may include, but are not limited to, meetings with members to discuss consultations or negotiations, preparations for consultations or negotiations, attendance at LNC / JLNC meetings, BMA UK SAS, UK CC, UK JDC and attendance at other BMA Regional / National meetings or conferences related to consultations or negotiations.

Paid time off work is allowed for trade union representatives to attend committee and executive meetings which are about, at least in part, negotiations and collective bargaining. BMA representatives are allowed reasonable unpaid time off work for committee and executive meetings should this criteria not be met.

Furthermore, a union representative has a statutory entitlement to a reasonable amount of paid time off work for accompanying individual employees involved in disciplinary procedures or grievances. BMA members who have more serious issues will normally be represented by BMA full-time officials, BMA local representatives may also have an involvement in early, and less formal stages of procedures.

Industrial relations training

There is also an entitlement for BMA representatives to have a reasonable amount of paid time off to undergo relevant industrial relations training which will normally have been approved by the BMA. BMA representatives complete their training in 3 stages. BMA representatives complete their training in 3 stages. The first is undertaking a mandatory online module which the BMA has in place and will take around 30 minutes to complete. This is followed by a meeting with their local Industrial Relations officer which, again, may take around 30 minutes. Finally, representatives attend a full day face to face or virtual training event arranged regionally.


Practical considerations

The amount and frequency of the time taken off work should be reasonable in all the circumstances. Employment contracts may contain contractual provisions about time off work for trade union duties and activities and/or professional leave. Similarly, local agreements (for example on the local negotiating committee) may well be incorporated into employment contracts.

As much notice as practically possible should be given to employers for time off work. Notice should include: the purpose of such time off, the intended location, timing and duration.

Some employers will give time off in lieu for trade union leave where duties and/or activities are carried out on a non-working day.

It is common for NHS employers to allow paid time off for BMA/professional/Royal College/TU/other duties which are all valid and are well established custom and practice. Paid leave for such activities is widely accepted by employers.


ACAS code of practice on trade union leave

The ACAS code provides further guidance on this issue. It is not legally binding and failure to follow the ACAS code does not automatically give rise to legal liability. Notwithstanding this, the ACAS code of practice is admissible in evidence before an Employment Tribunal.

ACAS code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities.



Time off for representatives carrying out trade union duties is found in section 168 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

Time off for members and representatives participating in trade union activities is found in section 170 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

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