The Role of a Union Learner Representative
To benefit the Learner, strengthen the Union and add value to the Company.
What is a ULR (Union Learner Representative)?
A union learning representative (ULR) is a member of an independent trade union, recognised by their employer, and elected by their union in the workplace.
A ULR is trained in advising members on learning needs and opportunities. ULRs are recruited from within the workforce, and they aim to complement and add value to the employer’s existing training strategy. The key role of the ULR is to raise awareness of training and development across the membership he/she represents - whether unskilled workers or highly qualified professionals, those with urgent literacy and numeracy needs or those who wish to refresh and upgrade their skills.
ULR’s are there to support both members of the BFAWU and non-members. This support is open to all!
What do ULRs do?
ULRs have been instrumental in championing the importance of training and development. ULRs work very hard to boost the image and strengthen the organisation of their union within the workplace. They can help widen union membership across the board and in underrepresented groups such as migrant workers.
The ULR role involves:
Promoting the value of learning
Supporting workplace learning centres to embed learning in the workplace
Other functions undertaken by the ULR as set out in the Employment Act 2002 include; analysing learning or training needs, providing information, advice and guidance (IAG) about learning and consulting the employer about carrying out these activities.
The ULR is NOT there to assume or replicate the duties of a company’s HR or training staff. The role is more to raise awareness about the value of learning and helping organise courses in the workplace to make learning more accessible for their colleagues whilst encouraging them to take part in learning.
Time off for ULRs
To carry out their role and duties effectively, they ULR will require time off from their job. The Employment Act 2002 gives rights to ‘reasonable’ time off with pay to carry out their duties and to train for such duties, provided that they are members of independent trade unions, for example those affiliated to the TUC, and they are in workplaces where unions are recognized by the employer for collective bargaining purposes. Union members who need access to their ULR have the right to do this in work time but the employer does not have to pay them. Guidance on the implementation of these new rights for ULRs has been included in a revised version of the ACAS Code of Practice on Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities.
Benefit for the employers of working with ULRs
Most organisations recognise that their employees need to have the right skills to respond to changes in the business environment. In many industries there is also an increasing need to meet legislative requirements, such as health and safety, food hygiene and so on, that require employees to interpret and understand increasingly complex information.
Even though many employers encourage their workers to take part in training, sometimes the results are not what had been hoped for. Employees sometimes lack the confidence to get involved in learning and sometimes they are wary about why an employer is asking them to undertake training, especially in areas such as numeracy and literacy. One of the main aims of the ULR is to provide the vital information, support and encouragement that will enable these employees to feel comfortable in acquiring new skills.
Union Learning Reps (ULRs) engage learners that are otherwise hard for providers to reach. This is one of the key contributions of unions to the learning and skills agenda. ULRs offer support and guidance to learners throughout their learning journey. It is important to note that the support is ongoing.
Benefits for the Learner (employee) of working with ULRs.
There are many advantages to employees in having support available from a trained ULR who can give advice in the familiar surroundings of the workplace. ULRs can provide information about learning opportunities, available both inside and outside the workplace. They are an accessible source of information on everyday training matters as well as new and existing learning and skills initiatives, and by helping employees to improve their skill levels and increase their confidence and morale, they can contribute to the overall success and productivity of their organisations.
ULRs don’t just engage learners, they offer information, advice, guidance, carry out initial assessments of skills, link learners up with providers, assist learners through union learning centres, arrange flexible provision for shift workers, and plan next learning steps.