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Union Learning Reps may get legal status, says government


The government is looking at establishing legal status for Union Learning Representatives to give them greater influence in the workplace, according to the new White Paper on Enterprise, Skills and Innovation published yesterday.

The government wants to see companies give greater recognition to the role of learning representatives, who work to encourage learning in the workplace through direct contact with potential learners in the workforce. The TUC has trained some 2,000 union members as Learning Reps so far, but there's currently no requirement for companies to work or consult with them over training strategy. The government's plans could see some sort of formal system put in place to ensure this happens.

Announcing the plans, Lifelong Learning Minister Malcolm Wicks said: "We are committed to making sure that workers get the skills to succeed in the new economy and Union Learning Representatives will help to bring this about. They are trained to give front line advice to workers on the opportunities available to improve their skills. This is a vital, positive new role for trade unions and we should all do everything we can to encourage it. We believe that formal recognition will go a long way towards raising the profile of these representatives and improving their effectiveness. "I want the union of the future to be a learning union. More than ever before, the most significant contribution workers can make to improve their prospects and their standard of living is to learn new skills or upgrade their existing ones. They need help and encouragement to do this, and unions are ideally placed to deliver."

The majority of the Learning Representatives already in place have received training for their role with the help of funding from the government's £12.5 million Union Fund Initiative set up in 1998 to help unions to encourage and support learning in the workplace. The government sees unions and workplace representatives as having a crucial role to play in ensuring that employees are encouraged to develop both specific and transferable skills, particularly if they haven't undertaken any formal learning for a long time and are sceptical of those in managerial positions. A survey of Learning Reps last year found that 70% felt they had made a positive impact on learning in their workplace.

TUC General Secretary, John Monks welcomed the proposals, saying: "This is good news for employers and workers alike. Every day trade union learning reps are successfully encouraging thousands of people to take up work-based learning. At the moment they rely on being given time off work by their bosses to do this. This has worked in companies where the employer understands the benefits of union involvement in learning, but has fallen down where bosses refuse to talk to unions about training. Now all union learning reps will have the legal right to take time off for training and to spread the learning message in their workplaces. This change will go a long way towards enhancing the skills of UK businesses, enabling them to be more productive and better able to compete with other companies around the world."


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