PhD Studentship Public Sector Workplace Trade Unionism under Austerity: Challenges to facility time arrangements


University of Portsmouth – Portsmouth Business School

PhD Studentship

Project Title: Public Sector Workplace Trade Unionism under Austerity: Challenges to facility time arrangements

Application Deadline:  Friday 19 April


Supervisors: Dr Steve Williams, Dr Iona Byford and Dr Peter Scott

Project Description

Applications are invited for a three-year PhD Studentship in Portsmouth Business School, starting 1 October 2013.

The purpose of the proposed research is to examine the efficacy of workplace trade unionism (shop steward and lay representative structures) in the public sector set against the broader context of austerity measures and related issues. The relevance of this topic has become evident recently; manifest in attempts by some parts of the government to challenge existing facility-time agreements (which give accredited lay union representatives the right to reasonable time away from their normal work duties to pursue their trade union activities, representing members in grievance and disciplinary hearings for example); and the encouragement given to other public sector employers to do likewise. Lobbying organisations like the Taxpayers€™ Alliance, Conservative politicians and sympathetic newspapers have campaigned vigorously against facility time, and the supposed financial cost attached to it, claiming that it constitutes an unjustified and illegitimate subsidy for trade union activities which the unions should pay for out of their own funds, not the public purse. The Trades Union Congress (TUC), though, stresses the value of facility time arrangements, particularly the contribution they make to ensuring that employment relations issues are dealt with in an appropriate and effective fashion – in effect saving management time.

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Challenges to the legitimacy of current facility time arrangements within the public sector raise a number of important questions relating to the conduct of employment relations within the public sector, in particular: how have workplace trade unions fared in a climate of greater austerity? In what ways have the role and activities of stewards and lay representatives changed as a result of the altered political and economic climate? To what extent have they been subject to challenges from employers, and what has been the nature of their responses? Answers to questions such as these will not only enable us to understand better how workplace trade unionism has fared under a regime of austerity, focusing particularly on the matter of facility time arrangements, but also provide us with key insights into the changing nature of public sector employment relations. We currently lack effective knowledge and understanding of how workplace union structures, shop stewards and lay representatives in general are faring in the current austerity-dominated climate, particularly in the public sector where, as mentioned above, employers have increasingly been encouraged to challenge prevailing arrangements. There has been very little recent research in particular on the question of union facility time, how union representatives use it, and the responses of public sector employers. Much of the extant literature available upon this subject reflects very different times economically and socially, and it is anticipated that a robust academic study on workplace trade unionism in the public sector would provide key insights and essential detail as to the role of shop stewards and lay representatives, many of whom are currently granted facility time by their employers.

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Enquiries relating to the topic should be directed to: Dr. Stephen Williams ( This full-time studentship is open to Home/EU students and is located in Portsmouth Business School. Potential applicants are advised to examine our Research Degree Pages  prior to applying.

Funding Status

The studentship will cover tuition fees and an annual grant equivalent to that offered by the ESRC – set at £13,720 per annum for 2013/14 for a maximum of three years. UK/EU residence eligibility conditions apply.

How to apply
Applicants will have a good first degree (minimum 2.1 or equivalent) and ideally a Masters (or equivalent) in a relevant subject area.


Applications should include:

    • a full CV including personal details, qualifications, educational history and, where applicable, any employment or other experience relevant to the application
    • contact details for TWO referees able to comment on your academic performance
    • a statement of 1,000 (words) outlining your proposed project, identifying the objectives of the research and discussing how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field.

Interviews will be conducted on Thursday 23 May 2013.

Applications should be sent to:

Steve Williams, Postgraduate Centre,

University of Portsmouth, Richmond Building,

Portland Street, Portsmouth, PO1 3DE

(applications can be submitted electronically via: and cc to



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