Taxpayers are funding trade unions to the tune of £113 million a year through direct grants and paid time off for union reps in public-sector organisations, according to new research published.
Under legislation dating back to 1975, union representatives are allowed paid time off for duties such as negotiating terms and conditions, helping union members with disciplinary procedures and discussing issues such as redundancies.
Figures obtained by the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) pressure group from public-sector employers around the country found that paid time off amounted to the equivalent of 2,840 full-time staff in 2010/11. The TPA estimated the cost to taxpayers of this time off at £80 million, or 0.14%, of the annual public-sector pay bill.
If public-sector organisations cut it to the 0.04% seen in the private sector, it would be the equivalent of making an additional 2,028 full-time workers available for front-line posts, said the group.
Additionally, public-sector organisations paid almost £33 million directly to trade unions in 2010/11 - the bulk of it made up of the Department for Business's £21.4 million support for the TUC's Union Learning Fund, which provides skills training.
TPA director Matthew Sinclair said: "Taxpayers shouldn't be funding staff to work for trade unions, providing them with a huge activist base to support strikes and freeing up resources for political campaigns.
"Paying for the salaries of full-time union staff and the many grants the unions receive is yet another burden on hard-pressed families, diverting money they expect to be spent on frontline services. The Government need to take action and end this scandalous subsidy for unions disrupting services in a vain attempt to stop necessary restraint in public spending."
Public-sector union Unison cited research commissioned by the Department for Business suggesting that union representation saves the public purse between £170 million and £400 million a year by improving retention, training take-up, health and safety and dispute resolution.
Union general secretary Dave Prentis said: "Here we have the same tired, old right-wing rubbish from the so-called TaxPayers' Alliance.
"If this organisation were indeed acting on behalf of taxpayers, rather than promoting their own right-wing political agenda, they would be acknowledging the huge role trade unions play in creating an efficient, more motivated workplace. By doing this, trade unions save the public purse a fortune."