Learning Representatives - UK (John Rodgers, Emma Wallis & Jonathan
Union Learning Representatives is an initiative by the UK Trades Union
Congress. The initiative seeks to promote workplace learning through equipping
local union representatives to negotiate learning provision and to provide
information, advice and guidance on learning opportunities to co-workers.
In recent years many of the largest and most influential trade unions within
the UK have placed increasing emphasis on learning in general, and in the
recruitment and training of Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) in particular.
Over 4,500 ULRs have been trained in order both to promote learning within
the workplace, and offer advice and guidance on learning opportunities
to their colleagues. ULRs have been highly successful with respect to promoting
learning within the workplace, facilitating increased participation in
learning by members of those groups traditionally under-represented in
learning activities, and promoting approaches to learning within the workplace
based upon social partnership.
Furthermore, the recent establishment of community based ULRs and
the growing interest in the concept of community unionism within unions
such as Amicus and ISTC, suggests that the unions themselves recognise
the potential for addressing the social inclusion agenda by extending the
benefits of the ULR initiative to the economically inactive.
There is evidence that ULRs have experienced some success in promoting
the broader concept of lifelong learning endorsed by the European Commission,
which embraces learning activities undertaken within a personal, civic,
social and/or employment-related perspective, as opposed to the narrower
view of learning held by many employers, which places more emphasis on
the acquisition of task or firm specific skills to facilitate job competence.
Mainstream approaches to HRD routinely neglect the plurality of the workplace
and fail to consider the employee relations implications of HRD.
In examining the ULR initiative, the potential conflict of interest between
employers and workers is highlighted and the important role of trade unions
is exposed. While the Employment Act 2002 provided statutory backing
for learning representatives, this falls short of a statutory right to
bargain over training, let alone a right to access to training as exists
in several other EU Member States. Nevertheless, on the evidence
to date, this development is likely to be of pivotal importance for improving
trade union effectiveness in influencing HRD and learning opportunities
in the workplace, especially for groups at risk of social exclusion, such
as low skilled and older workers, who are less likely to have engaged in
(recent) learning activities.
While it is too early for a comprehensive evaluation of their impact, case
study evidence and the results of interim evaluation for the Government
and the TUC, suggests that they offer a potential good practice example
of social partnership to promote learning at work.
passages from the authors' paper "Union Learning Representatives: Making
the European area of lifelong learning a reality?" presented at the HRD
conference in Toulouse, May 2003 (see proceedings
and catalogue of references: Rodgers et al.