Plan to give skills reps union status sparks row

A row has broken out between employers and unions over proposals for ‘learning representatives’ to help identify workforce training needs. The EEF and CBI say that proposals from the Department for Education and Skills will impose yet another burden on firms. Unions say the scheme will improve productivity, especially in firms which are unable to […]

A row has broken out between employers and unions over proposals for ‘learning representatives’ to help identify workforce training needs.

The EEF and CBI say that proposals from the Department for Education and Skills will impose yet another burden on firms. Unions say the scheme will improve productivity, especially in firms which are unable to afford a full-time training officer. Consultation on the proposals ends today (Friday).

The role of the learning rep is to identify workers with, say, numeracy or literacy problems and encourage them to undergo training.

There are already around 2,000 learning representatives, but they operate largely unofficially. The DfES believes this is hampering them.

It proposes, where unions are already recognised, to put learning reps on the same statutory basis as other union officials, and to give them time off to attend an initial training programme and then to carry out their role in the workplace.

Small firms would not be exempt. The learning rep would not be involved in collectivebargaining.

The CBI said its members are ‘deeply concerned’ at the prospect of handing unions the right to appoint learning representatives ‘without the employer’s agreement.’

EEF head of education and training affairs Ann Bailey said: ‘Many members have good experiences of employee representatives playing a positive role in encouraging learning in the workforce.’ But she said their success depended on voluntary partnerships.

‘We are more than happy to work together on a voluntary basis. But the imposition of statutory union learning representatives would be a further burden on businesses.’

Employer concerns appear to centre on the amount of time the training representative would need to take off to carry out their role, which the consultation document says would be ‘reasonable’ and defined by a code of practice. Employers are also worried that the move could eventually lead to training programmes being covered by collective bargaining.

A TUC spokesman dismissed such fears as ‘unjustified’. ‘We think there is a strong argument that learning representatives are of benefit to the workforce and the company. It would be good if they could be positive about it,’ he said.