Meeting the training needs of UNISON activists in challenging times

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2015 National Delegate Conference
23 February 2015
Carried as Amended

The challenges facing the trade union movement in relation to developing and training activists have rarely been as difficult as they are now, yet the need to ensure our representatives are confident and skilled is greater than ever.

Last year the coalition government announced that full funding for trade union education at level 3 and above would cease in September 2015. This will directly affect all diploma and organising academy courses and as a consequence the TUC will be unable to offer many such programmes. From September 2016, this change in funding will impact on all trade union education delivered by the TUC. This will have a major and potentially devastating effect on TUC centres at Colleges across England and Wales and will make the crucial role of training our reps much harder.

Already the effects of austerity mean that as a union we are identifying fewer activists and finding it more difficult to arrange training. According to RMS data in 2014 fewer stewards were recruited than in 2013. The rate at which new reps are trained in regions is holding up well, and new initiatives such as the new stewards’ e-note, which is now sent to all new stewards once they have been added to RMS, have been well received.

However we need a step change across the union in the way stewards and other workplace reps are supported and encouraged to become active before they are trained, in how they are trained and in how they are supported in the workplace following their training.

This is particularly significant an issue in the private and community sector. Conference notes that UNISON’s Organising strategy has already established the following objectives in relation to activist and member learning and training:

1)To ensure that elected representatives, branch officers and workplace contacts are able to access training and follow up support which is timely, accessible and relevant to their specific needs;

2)To support the development of activists;

3)To develop and support roll out of lifelong learning initiatives to support member development and confidence, and as part of strategic organising and recruitment campaigning.

In line with these objectives, Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

a)Extend e-learning to supplement, support and augment face to face training, for example by introducing further blended face to face and distance learning along the lines of the new version of the organising steward course aimed at reps in the private and community sector and from non-recognised workplaces;

b)Explore options for enabling low paid workers including in private companies and where there is no recognition to attend face to face training, including options for paying loss of earnings, and delivering existing short, flexible modules to small groups;

c)Develop a plan to track closely new activists identified as part of the private company organising campaign, and organise relevant training as quickly as possible for the new reps, where possible with other private sector reps;

d)Work to improve data collection, monitoring and information provided to branches about untrained reps including in private and community employers. Improvements to AMT (the training database within RMS) will make it easier for branches to identify untrained stewards by employer;

e)Work with regions and the TUC to minimise course cancellations and, recognising that the financial climate sometimes makes these inevitable, to minimise the impact of course cancellations on new reps;

f)Develop training for reps from lead employers to support them in negotiating and bargaining on behalf of members in small private employers where an organising strategy is not practical;

g)Continue to develop a national network of lay tutors able to support flexible delivery of training and member learning.

Conference calls on regions and branches to:

i)Ensure branches have filled the branch education co-ordinator (BEC) post, and work with BEC’s to support reps including from the private and community sectors by providing them with a named contact, buddy or mentor, and ensuring that they can participate in appropriate training;

ii)Identify potential union learning reps and lay tutors who can be trained to deliver short workshops in the branch;

iii)Promote and deliver short, flexible modules for new workplace contacts to get them active quickly;

iv)Take advantage of the member learning offer workshops including Your Skills, Your Future and longer programmes including Return to Learn, as a means of encouraging members to get involved in the union. Both programmes are supported by Learning and Organising Services who can help with publicity and providing a tutor.