EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Hours Reduction – Trades Union Congress (TUC), UK


United Kingdom
Organisation Size: 
Large (250+)
NGO / non-profit organisation
Initiative Types: 
Leave-relatedHours reductionWork adjustmentsawareness raising

Company / organisation name

Trades Union Congress (TUC)

Initiative name

Staff Handbook

About the company / organisation

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is the the national trade union centre of the United Kingdom (UK). It is a federation of trade unions in the UK, representing the majority of trade unions. The TUC directly employs about 300 staff. They are engaged in bringing the UK’s unions together to draw up common policies; lobbying the national government; national and international campaigning; representing working people on public bodies; carrying out research on employment-related issues; running training and education programmes for union representatives; supporting unions in developing new services for their members; and building links with other trade union bodies worldwide.

About half of the TUC’s workforce is based at its London headquarters.

The initiative

A set of practices is designed to ensure that all working carers are able to combine caring responsibilities with their work at the TUC. Particular emphasis is given to the needs of parents through benefits, leave arrangements and provision for flexible working. For example, an employee can move from working full time (9-5), five days a week, to a part-time schedule of two and a half days per week. Others may need longer or more intense periods of leave, depending on their caring needs. In such cases, staff can take an unpaid sabbatical if required and their job is kept open for their return.

The TUC’s measures for supporting working carers are outlined below.

Flexitime (contractual): the TUC operates a flexi-time system for all staff except those whose jobs make this impractical, such as catering staff, conference assistants, building services assistants, and cleaners. In these cases, managers are instructed to make every effort to agree working hours that meet individual requirements.

Part-time working: staff may apply to work part-time between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. Agreement to these changes, whether permanently or for a specified period of time, is generally given under the following terms: (i) part-time hours to be agreed, taking into account the impact on the service; (ii) reasonable alternative arrangements can be made to maintain the work of the department/section; (iii) pay and holidays (including bank holidays and customary days) will be proportional to the hours worked on a part-time basis; (iv) the employee agrees in advance with their line manager the period of time for which part-time/revised working will apply, to allow alternative resourcing arrangements to be introduced where necessary.

Management is instructed to not unreasonably refuse such applications, having regard to the need to maintain the work of the TUC and the department concerned.

The period of time for which revised working or part-time working conditions will apply (whether permanent or for a specified period) is agreed in advance. This allows alternative resourcing arrangements to be made where necessary. Any further adjustment to working hours outside of this arrangement requires notice of at least four weeks and acceptance is at the discretion of the manager in question.

Staff who have a caring responsibility for a child aged six years and under, or for a child with a disability aged up to 18 years, have a statutory right to request flexible working conditions. This includes the right to reduced hours and part-time working. In addition, any staff member ‘who is or expects to be caring for an adult’ also have a statutory right to request flexible work. A qualifying adult is defined as: (i) spouse, partner or civil partner of the member of staff; (ii) a ‘near’ relative of the member of staff, for example parents, parent(s)-in-law, adult child, adopted adult child, siblings (this category also includes in-laws, uncles, aunts or grandparents and step relatives); or (iii) someone who lives at the same address as the member of staff but is neither of the above.

Management promises to respond in writing and arrange to meet with the staff member within 28 days of receiving a request. The staff member can ask to be accompanied at the meeting by a union representative or a colleague. Within 14 days of the meeting, the decision will be communicated. If the member of staff is not satisfied with the decision they can appeal to the Assistant General Secretary.

Carer’s leave: staff may take up to five days paid leave during any holiday leave year to care for a spouse, partner, child or older relative or other dependent who is sick. (It is recognised that in such cases it will not always be possible to give prior notice, but staff should discuss the need for further leave following the first day of absence.)

Emergencies (contractual): employees have a legal entitlement to unpaid leave to deal with domestic emergencies. Where possible, notice should be given, but it is recognised that this will not always be practical. In these circumstances you can request to take flexi-leave, time off in lieu, holidays, or unpaid leave.

Rationale and background of the initiative

The TUC has a long history of campaigning for workers rights, terms and conditions; this is reflected by its adoption of a carers policy, more than a decade before UK legislation was introduced.

The TUC organises campaigns and lobbies government for policy changes, including the introduction of legislation that improves employees’ working life and roles. A wide range of issues are currently being lobbied for; pertinently for the present project, the TUC is promoting and lobbying for work–life balance within companies. They set out a model of working that promotes a work–life balance, comprising the following elements:

  • commitment to improving the organisation of work by each level of management, from supervisor to chief executive, union representatives and all grades of staff;
  • understanding what the concepts of productivity and profitability, job security, job satisfaction and working time mean for management, unions and workforce;
  • trust, which is built by working in partnership to identify and solve problems jointly;
  • representation from all groups of staff who will be affected;
  • involvement, through the widest possible consultation, so that staff have the opportunity to contribute to solutions;
  • listening to aspirations and expectations;
  • considering ideas seriously – recognising that every idea, including the ones you don't like, needs to be examined;
  • transparency, by keeping staff fully informed;
  • testing solutions – it is usually best to test new practices through a voluntary pilot study during which employees can to revert to existing terms and conditions if they wish;
  • action on possible solutions rather than shelving the issue until it is too late;
  • confidence in a positive outcome.

Results and assessment

The TUC carried out a survey of staff in 2009; some of the results suggest that working conditions within the organisation, such as the carers policy, have a positive impact upon staff. This is evidenced by retention rates: 26% of staff have worked for the TUC for 10 years or more; 43% of staff have worked for the TUC for between three and 10 years; in total, nearly 70% of staff have worked for the TUC for over three years.

The terms and conditions associated with working for the TUC reflect the values and views of the TUC. They therefore tend to attract a type of employee who shares these aspirations and views. About 10% of the workforce has caring responsibilities for adult dependents.

The work–life balance policy recognises that many employees have care issues, and seeks to be flexible enough to cover these demands. There has been no cost-benefit analysis undertaken, as this was not deemed necessary – the TUC is not a commercial organisation.

Issues, challenges and lessons learned

The TUC has had carers policies in place for a significant length of time, and is in a relatively knowledgeable position in this area. Its carers policy, as with all other policies, is completely embedded within its organisational structure. As a result, it is easily implemented.

Having a carers policy in place has several implications for employees and the organisation. One of the most important lessons of this case study is that value systems must be in place, which can be understood and applied by all concerned. For example, a considerable degree of trust between the employee and their line manager is required for the employee to request carers leave, or flexible working. Unlike sick leave, requests for caring leave cannot be verified through a ‘certificate’ or other medical documents. The employee is expected not to abuse the situation. Such expectations can only exist if there is a well-established trusting relationship between the employee and the organisation.

The TUC suggests that other organisations who want to establish a carers policy should start by conducting a staff survey of the needs of the workforce. They also recommend looking at absenteeism within the workforce, as this may illustrate or highlight issues related to work–life balance and issues specific to carers.

Trained employees of transparent organisations with processes and structures in place will have the confidence to ask for help regarding a caring need, be it an emergency or long-term situation. The availability of a variety of flexible working practices enables employees to cope with an unexpected or long-term change in their lives.

When employees use annual leave for caring, this may result in an imbalance between work and home. Leave should be used to rest and recuperate, to have time out from work.


Case study author:

  • Dr Paula Byrne, Division Primary Care, University Liverpool


  • Jenny Dixon (TUC): Human Resources
  • Jacky Blay

Online sources:

  • Fagan, C., Hegewisch, A., Pillinger, J. Out of Time. Research paper. [accessed at:, 15 April 2010].
  • USDAW. Supporting parents and carers. [accessed at:, 8 April 2010].
  • UNISON and Working Families. Flexible working – making it work. Toolkit. [accessed at:, 10 April 2010].
  • TUC. Work–Life balance case studies. [accessed at:, 8 April 2010].

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