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learningrep Âť Autumn 07

in iPod n a n Wi ders’ a e r r ou ey on surv 35 page

Football shorts to legal briefs How Udo Onwere got transferred from football to law school through his union

» Comment

Good news from TUC Congress It felt as though unionlearn had won the lottery when Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, unexpectedly told TUC Congress delegates that the Union Learning Fund would be increased by £3 million from next year. This great tribute to the work of ULRs was reinforced when the PM described union learning as: “the biggest transformation of trades unions since the growth of the shop steward movement.” Praise indeed. But it didn’t stop there. At our fringe meeting where we launched our report Time to Tackle the Training Divide, Lifelong Learning Minister Bill Rammell said that ULRs are: “one of the unsung success stories of the last 10 years.” And Skills Minister David Lammy told our Congress reception: “ULRs are people who make a difference.” Now we must hope that all this goodwill is reflected in the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn. If so, unionlearn and its ability to support unions and ULRs to continue such praiseworthy work could continue for several more years. Congress also saw three launches. We opened our new Online Learning Centre, set up with Newcastle College. We unveiled our Careers and Advice line, which is a joint venture with learndirect. And our new Climbing Frame also saw the light of day. For unionlearn, Congress meant strong endorsements for our work, and a much higher recognition of our brand among delegates. Finally, please go online and complete our reader survey, which will help us improve the magazine (see page 35). And you might win a prize! Liz Smith Director, unionlearn The Learning Rep, autumn 07 Editor: Mike Power Writers: Astrid Stubbs, Martin Moriarty Design: Redhouse Lane Communications Print: Ancient House Printing Group Distribution: Cavalier mailing Cover photo: Footballer turned solicitor Udo Onwere by Alex Mcguire.

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Contents: 3 8 12 15 16 18 21 26 28 30 32 34 35 36

TUC Congress round-up News John Denham interview Commission for Employment Norfolk County Services Gilda O’Neill interview Recipe for organising success Sign of the times TUC Education Adult Learners’ Week Udo Onwere Sue Ferns interview Jay knows Contacts



Photo by Jess Hurd

TUC Congress « News «

TUC Congress round-up

PM backs ULF, ULRs


Unite – Amicus section learning rep Patrick McIlvogue collects his TUC ULR of the Year Award from Prime Minister Gordon Brown

ordon Brown arrived at his first TUC Congress as Prime Minister with the golden hello of an extra £3 million for union learning and generous praise for learning reps, including the TUC’s ULR of the Year, Patrick McIlvogue. The PM congratulated ULRs, saying they were responsible for “the biggest transformation of trade unions since the growth of the shop steward movement.” And he delighted delegates with his surprise news that he would increase the Union Learning Fund from £12.5 million to £15.5 million next year. The PM also said the Government planned to double Apprenticeships to 500,000 by 2020. “We are ready to work with you now to expand Apprenticeships into local government, the NHS and the Civil Service itself – as well as into new sectors of the youth labour market,” he said. And he called on all employers to join unions in signing the Skills Pledge, accompanying it with a pledge of his own: “If we do not make sufficient progress over the next three years, we will consider for employees in England who lack a good vocational qualification, a legal entitlement to workplace training.”

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» Interview » TUC ULR of the Year TUC ULR of the Year Patrick McIlvogue says he would never have won the award without the support of the rest of his team in Glasgow.

The Rolls-Royce of ULRs By Astrid Stubbs


he ULR from Unite – Amicus section is quick to stress that union teamwork is behind the success of learning at the Rolls-Royce Inchinnan plant near Glasgow. Patrick is a union convenor, dealing with all aspects of trade union activity. He also chairs a weekly learning steering group, made up of union and company representatives, which has developed a 12-month plan for delivering learning. It’s led to around a quarter of the 1,400 strong workforce signing up for courses – all in the space of a year.

Patrick celebrates his success with Unite’s joint general secretaries, Tony Woodley (left) and Derek Simpson

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He insists that learning has been a success because it’s enshrined in the union’s own structure and bargaining agenda. Last year, eight ULRs were sent on a refresher course and a further eight trained to ensure staff always have access to someone involved with learning. “Now learning is part of union business. To be a ULR you also have to be a shop steward,” he says. After joining the company 18 years ago as a 16-year-old craft apprentice, Patrick originally stepped up to the job of shop steward because no one else would. All that has since changed – only recently the union has had to hold elections because there was competition for a shop steward’s job. “The award is recognition for the collective. I’ve driven it, coordinated it, done number crunching but no way I could talk to 1,400 people. It’s because of the infrastructure we have created. Learning is now part of the business, part of the bargaining agenda,” he explains.

“We’ve created a monster! We have given people an expectation, like giving them terms and conditions. Most people expect learning and if it’s not there they are now going to ask why.” The speed at which Patrick has created such a demand in less than a year has no doubt contributed to his award. And it has to be judged in the context of bringing learning to staff with such complex needs. The company effectively operates four businesses on one site, working around at least four rotating shift patterns. Despite the logistical nightmare of organising courses around these shifts, Patrick has negotiated a range of learning opportunities including ECDL, Spanish and pensions for staff. “There was a lot of number-crunching, it was a big logistical operation,” he admits. A further learning survey showed that 10 per cent of 250 respondents wanted help with literacy and numeracy. Because dealing with staff with such sensitive needs calls for careful handling, an agreement has been reached to provide a unique programme of four, two-hour, oneto-one sessions to help signpost staff to the best provider. At the other end of the scale, Patrick says the learning

TUC ULR of the Year « Interview «

Photos by Jess Hurd

TUC Congress round-up

committee is now looking at helping people who have completed their apprenticeships but who want to go on to further learning. Talks have just begun with the Open University to consider how they can use their qualifications towards an open degree – a move that has already attracted the interest of 34 people. And if a pilot PC Passport qualification proves successful, in which the company pays for 50 per cent of the worker’s time, 100 more are signed up to participate. “Learning is self-generating. We have individuals of all ages who have never stepped through a college door. But because it’s in the workplace, because it’s the TUC and because it’s familiar, they are comfortable. And once they have done one thing, like a basic computer course, it throws up another area they want to learn in,” says Patrick. “When people come back from a course, there’s a zest, an enthusiasm about them.” He cites the example of one female manual worker in her 50s who was frustrated at being pigeon-holed into the same job. She completed her basic computer training and has now embarked on a higher level.

In addition, she’s become a shop steward and ULR. “People get filtered at an early age into decisions that shape them maybe in the wrong direction. I’m a firm believer in giving people opportunities, not denying them.” Despite the demands of his job, Patrick has found time to continue his own learning journey and is in his final year of a degree in trade union studies. As the son of a shipyards shop steward (also Patrick McIlvogue), this will bring him full circle. “My dad always said trade union were a good things: he gave me good values,” he says. And he advises fellow ULRs: “Be tenacious. Keep at it. Keep going. You hold the moral high ground. Who can argue about the importance of learning to the company and the individual?”

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» News » TUC Congress

Mind the gap Government, employers and unions came together to discuss tackling the training divide in a fringe meeting at Congress.

the solution was seen as someone else’s responsibility, he declared, but the responsibility had to be shared. A demand-led approach was key to meeting the skills challenge along with a new TUC nly 12 per cent Congress Adult Careers Service which of employees round-up would make ongoing assessments of people’s needs, without he argued. qualifications get training Over 200 employers had already compared to 41 per cent of signed the Skills Pledge and graduate employees, according to new research published in the run- unions would be fundamentally important in delivering on the up to this year’s TUC Congress. Pledge at ground level, Bill said. The persistence of that training The UK faces an important gap was the springboard for a social and economic challenge, fringe meeting organised by the he stressed. “We have to work TUC and unionlearn. together: we can’t do it alone and Lifelong Learning Minister Bill time is of the essence.” Rammell said ULRs had played a Steve Radley, chief economist vital role in the Government’s with the Engineering Employers achievements, including tripling the number of Apprenticeships and Federation (EEF) which represents 6,000 manufacturing firms, agreed introducing Train to Gain. about the need to invest in higher “Crucially, we wouldn’t have levels of skills. done any of this without the very, Achieving change would very significant role of ULRs – one involve a hard look at the minority of the unsung success stories of of employers who invest little in the last 10 years.” training in order to “help raise their But the UK is still a long way aspirations.” from where it needs to be in He said the EEF had signed the delivering world class skills and risks falling behind its international Skills Pledge and hoped large numbers of its members would too. economic competitors, he warned. But he was concerned that a Too often in facing this challenge


Photo by Jess Hurd

Three’s company: Frances O’Grady flanked by Bill Rammell (left) and Billy Hayes

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compulsory approach might lead to more but not necessarily better training. “Will it be the right kind of training that delivers results?” TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady argued that the scale of change needed was not going to be delivered simply by asking nicely for training. And she warned that the TUC would be watching very carefully in the lead up to 2010 and Britain’s progress towards targets to eliminate the scandal of low pay. “And if we don’t hit those targets, we are going to be first in the queue to say we want workers to have paid time off for training.” In the challenges posed by globalisation, Frances said learning was both a source of problems and, crucially, the potential solution to them. And she added her praise to the achievements of ULRs who, she said, made a huge difference to thousands and thousands of lives, transforming not only skills but people’s experience of work itself. “I want that to be seen as central to what we do,” she stressed.

TUC Congress « News «

ULRs meet the minister

TUC Congress round-up


added that the Government was right to put faith in unions and invest in the Union Learning Fund. “And anyone who has any doubts about that only has to spend a few minutes with these and other ULRs to realise that,” she said. David Lammy said he was honoured to be at the reception: “These are the people on the ground that make a difference, that

Meeting the minister (clockwise from top left): Maria Silva; Ron Smith and Sue Hall; Ayub Patel; Frances O’Grady, Patrick McIlvogue, David Lammy, Billy Hayes and Liz Smith (below).

remind you about the personal stories and I think they need to be publicly acknowledged for the work they are doing,” he said. He said it was particularly poignant for him to have been offered the post of minister, after being raised by his mother when his father walked out. “She didn’t have basic skills and it was a shop steward who helped her help her family,” he recalled. “In the end, people trust people they know, who look and sound like them in the workplace: that’s what really affects people’s lives, someone nudging up next to them saying: ‘You can do this!’”

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Photos by Jess Hurd

LRs from up and down the country got the chance to talk about their experiences to newly-appointed Skills Minister David Lammy during a unionlearn reception at Congress. Unite – T&G section activists Ron Smith and Sue Hall were delighted to be able to talk to David about the highly successful programme they’ve run for hundreds of staff at the Arriva bus depot in Maidstone, Kent. UNISON’s Julie Robinson took the opportunity to invite the minister to open a learning centre at Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council – even though she’d only been a ULR at Tristar Homes since July. Maria Silva of the GMB told the minister about her highly successful work bringing learning to migrant workers at McVities in Carlisle, which she’s hoping to extend across the county. And Ayub Patel, USDAW ULR at UniChem, Preston, talked about the range of courses from ESOL to computer learning, numeracy and literacy which he and fellow ULRs have introduced to colleagues in a short space of time. Unionlearn Director Liz Smith


» News What’s most likely to get you to study again? Your best friend saying ‘you can do it!’ So I’m proud our labour movement has produced 18,000 volunteer union learning reps, ‘best friends’ in 6,000 workplaces up and down the country. John Denham, Labour Party conference, September 2007

Feeling the quality Local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger got his hands on a mortar while visiting military contractor BAe Land Systems but it was the learning centre at the Somerset-based firm that really impressed him. “The quality of the teaching and the dedication of the staff and union reps is brilliant: I’m amazed and delighted by what I've seen – it’s been a complete eye-opener,” the Conservative MP commented. Workers at BAe are queuing up to re-train in advance of the closure of the Puriton factory in March, ULR Harry Cook revealed. “Several people have already got new jobs after going on these courses because when they go to a new employer, they

can show they have the relevant qualifications and also that they're willing to learn,” he said. Accompanied by unionlearn South-West Regional Manager Helen Cole, Ian also looked in on the learning centre at Argos in Bridgwater, where he heard how over 50 staff had completed literacy qualifications in the previous 12 months. “It's wonderful to see the standard of education given to employees in conjunction with both companies: the learning centres are going from strength to strength,” Ian said.

Photo by Tim Gander

Photo by Jess Hurd

Unite – T&G section ULR Harry Cook (right) made sure his local MP didn’t literally drop any bombshells during his visit to BAe Land Systems

Rail staff plumb new heights Practical courses can be just the thing to help encourage union members get learning again, as rail ULR Chris Nutty found out when he organised a plumbing for beginners course for Midland Mainline and Virgin Trains staff in Derby this summer. The six men and four women who signed up for the one-day session enjoyed picking up tips of the trade from Derby College tutor Mark Eskil, who showed them how basic household water systems work and taught them practical skills. “People might wonder if there’s any real value in this type of course, with no qualification and no hard outcomes,” says ASLEF activist Chris. “But 50 per cent of those taking part were first-time learners, 25 per cent were lapsed learners and all of

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Railworker Eamon Tague (above) gets to work on a length of piping while tutor Mark Eskil (left) offers tips to Eamon, Lanita Masi and Lindsay Cooper

them have expressed an interest in future courses – sometimes this is just the kind of thing to get people off their seats and back into learning.”

News «

Photo by Jess Hurd

The Climbing Frame will help union members design their own learning pathways, unionlearn Director Liz Smith tells Skills Minister David Lammy at this year’s TUC Congress

Ed gets on the skills case

Swing into action on the Climbing Frame This year’s TUC Congress saw the formal launch of the unionlearn Climbing Frame, the electronic tool which allows union members to map out their own learning pathways, ULRs to track their members’ progress and employers to support their workforce development. “This innovative framework for learning will benefit all those involved in union learning in the workplace,” commented unionlearn Director Liz Smith. New Climbing Frame Support Officer Louisa Shaw will be responsible for overall maintenance, ensuring that the generic themes are updated, providing a support site for users and responding to requests for help. Training for the Climbing Frame should be available in each region in October and details will be posted on: Unionlearn has already developed Climbing Frames with retail union USDAW, civil service union PCS, and professionals’ union Prospect, who all took advantage of its flexibility to create bespoke approaches to suit their members. In addition, other Climbing Frames are under development with the Brinkburn Learning Centre in Newcastle and with the TUC itself. For more information, contact Climbing Frame Support Officer Louisa Shaw: ● Further copies of the Climbing Frame leaflet

enclosed with this edition of The Learning Rep are available – see page 35.

What is the Climbing Frame? The unionlearn Climbing Frame is an easy-to-use electronic tool to help learners and promote learning in the workplace. The learning themes section of the Climbing Frame provides a one-stop-shop of up-to-date information and advice for ULRs about a broad range of learning opportunities, with a library and a notes section where ULRs can store their own information. The learner management section enables ULRs to work with learners to collect personal details, decide on learning pathways and produce individual action plans which can be reviewed and updated. It also enables ULRs to keep ongoing records of who they’re working with, what’s been agreed and what’s been achieved, and provides unions and ULRs with aggregated information to illustrate the profile of their learners.

Unions and employers work best when they get together to solve workplace skills problems, according to new research launched with the blessing of the then Economic Secretary to the Treasury Ed Balls (now Children and Schools Secretary). “Strong and sustainable partnerships between employers and unions are making a difference to learning in the workplace, often underpinned by learning agreements,” Ed commented at the launch of the unionlearn report A Qualitative Study of Workplace Learning Agreements. Commissioned from Leeds University Business School, the study shows how establishing learning agreements almost always enhances relations between unions and management by improving trust, and usually complements a more strategic approach to human resource development. “More workplaces need to get involved, which is why I am pleased that the CBI and the TUC – together with the government – have launched a project to promote a workplace dialogue on training and skills,” Ed said. The new project, now under the aegis of the new departments for Innovation Universities and Skills (DIUS) and for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR), will include best practice guidance on employer-union dialogue on training. It’s been researched by the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change at Leeds Business School. You can download a copy of the Workplace Learning Agreements report from the unionlearn website.

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» News

ATL OKs CPD Education union ATL has signed a ground-breaking agreement with Edge Hill University which will allow members to develop their expertise in the classroom through the provider’s wide range of programmes and courses. Under the deal, ratified at the union’s annual conference, members will be able to sign up for the university’s accredited undergraduate and postgraduate courses at little or no cost to themselves, and gain formal accreditation for previously completed Continuous Professional Development (CPD).

The union’s ULRs are also set to benefit from specific programmes enabling them to develop their role. “ATL is very excited about this new partnership with Edge Hill, as they are a highly respected provider of professional development for teachers and school support staff,” says ATL General Secretary Mary Bousted. “Working together, we will be able to meet the rising demand among our members for good quality CPD, supporting both their career development and their impact in the classroom.”

ATL General Secretary Mary Bousted

Give us a call on 08000 92 91 90 Hundreds of union learners every month are already phoning the new, free Learning and Careers Advice Line formally launched by unionlearn and learndirect at this year’s TUC Congress. Guided by a team of specialist advisers, they’ve been getting a wide range of practical advice to help them make learning a part of their everyday life, from finding the course they want to finding childcare and access for people with disabilities. Most of the inquiries to date have come from people with no qualifications: while psychology and law the courses have attracted most interest, callers have been looking for information on everything from computer programming to welding. “The unionlearn Learning and

Careers Advice Line, run with learndirect has revealed a real hunger for learning and opportunities to train among trade union members,” says unionlearn Director Liz Smith. “All those who have called the line or made online enquiries are receiving excellent advice and guidance as to how to progress at work, how to access courses, or even how to change careers and unlock their potential.” Available in nine community languages, the new service hooks callers into a national database of over 900,000 courses delivered by over 10,000 different providers. Tel: 08000 92 91 90 (8am to 10pm every day, including weekends).

Now we are five

Unionlearn Director Liz Smith cuts the NUT birthday cake

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Teachers’ union NUT celebrated the fifth anniversary of its ULF-funded learning reps project this summer, with the news that its ULRs now cover 60 per cent of local authorities in England and Wales. “By promoting union learning and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) opportunities, talking to teachers, investigating local learning needs and organising local courses, we are seeing how learning can promote union organisation,” says General Secretary Steve Sinnott. Thanks to the growing network of ULRs, more NUT members are coming forward to be trained as school reps and health and safety reps, with 11 out of the 14 training courses on offer this summer filled to capacity. “We’ve tapped into a completely new group of potential NUT activists and we’ve seen a strengthening link between learning and organising,” says Assistant Secretary for Membership and Communications Arthur Jarman.

News «

Take me higher Trade unionists are increasingly keen on moving on to higher education, according to the results of a new survey following the memorandum of understanding between unionlearn and the Open University (OU). Demand is likely to be highest among older workers in professional and technical occupations who did not have the chance to take up Level 4 courses earlier in their careers, the research revealed. But learning needs assessments, paid time off and help with course fees would further boost take-up, according to the survey which attracted over 500 respondents from the ten largest TUC affiliates. Over two thirds (67 per cent) of those surveyed were planning to undertake

further education, training and development next year, with 71 per cent planning to undertake such opportunities in the next five years. Although 65 per cent felt that they had the confidence in their study skills to take up a course, 56 per cent would be interested in having an assessment to find out what their learning needs were. Over 80 per cent would take a learning opportunity if their employer provided paid time off to study, and 73 per cent would take up a learning opportunity if their employer paid all or part of the fees. But 59 per cent would find it difficult to get paid time off work to take a course, and 47 per cent feared not being able to afford the fees.

That’s quality, that is Unionlearn handed out its first batch of Quality Awards to recognise six providers for their commitment to union learning at its annual conference this summer. The awards went to the College of North London, Wirral Metropolitan College, Yeovil College Training, New College Trade Union Learndirect Centre, Stoke-on-Trent College and Tresham Institute of Further and Higher Education. All six had all proved that unions and union learners are considered in the design, development and delivery of their courses and programmes.

The conference saw 400 delegates packed into TUC headquarters to hear the then Education Secretary Alan Johnson, best-selling author Gilda O’Neill and TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber talk about the latest developments in learning. Two more memorandums of understanding were signed at the event: one with a number of Sector Skills Councils covering provision of information, advice and guidance (IAG) in the workplace; and one with Ufi/Learndirect, formally launching the bespoke telephone advice service for ULRs.

News in brief COVE calling Have you got hard evidence from your own experience about how learning can help vulnerable workers tackle problems at work? If so, the new independent Commission on Vulnerable Employment (COVE) wants to hear from you, especially about how learning and skills can help vulnerable workers get a fair deal. Send details of your experiences and suggestions via the COVE website: The deadline is 30 November 2007. Send us your survey Have you completed and returned your ULR survey? Unionlearn needs them back by 9 November, and a full report of the results will be appear in our January 2008 edition. If you haven’t received your copy of the ULR survey, please email Ann Joss at RaW stories The BBC is running free workshops up and down the country to help promote the Reading and Writing (RaW) campaign’s children’s short story competition. The sessions are designed to help ULRs encourage their members get writing, using characters from Max and Lara’s Amazing Travelling Space Circus from the RaW storytelling pack. More information: learn-1689-f0.cfm

Photo by Jess Hurd

Maggi Rowland (right), Head of Skills for Life at Stoke-on-Trent College, and Workforce Development Manager Sarah Thorrington pick up their Quality Award at the unionlearn annual conference from the then Education Secretary Alan Johnson

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» Interview » John Denham

Starter for

Denham John Denham talks to unionlearn Director Liz Smith about his goals for the new Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills.


ou’re the secretary of state of a whole new department, inheriting parts of the old DfES and DTI. What are your key goals for the DIUS? There are immense forces in the world which tend to produce a more unequal and more divided society, like the globalising economy, and huge challenges like climate change. The only way to deal with them is to make the most of the skills and abilities of everybody in the country and to have world-class research at universities which we can turn into successful businesses and public services. Our job as a department is to bring those strands of policy together in one place with a seat at the Cabinet table.

I think you’d agree that the skills strategy needs both to increase competitiveness and build social justice and equality of opportunity. How will current policies and measures achieve both these objectives? In the past, there was this idea that you either talked about skills for business or you talked about social

inclusion and kept the two things separate. I think that was a mistake – and I think the people championing skills missed a trick by leaving social inclusion and social mobility out of the story. I don’t want any misunderstanding: the business case for investing in skills stands in its own right, even if you weren’t the slightest bit interested in social mobility or social inclusion. But the reality is that if we can improve people’s skills then we can make a big impact on social inclusion and social mobility. How do you think unions can help? We can have big advertising campaigns and roadshows, but the single thing that’s most likely to persuade somebody to pluck up the courage – because that’s what’s involved to go and do a course

John Denham « Interview « What do ministers read when they go on holiday?

Photos by Jess Hurd

“I wish I could say something more weighty and impressive, but I was advised by my PPS to read the latest Ian Rankin, The Naming of the Dead. She suggested it to me because it features the murder of a PPS! That was my summer holiday reading and it was thoroughly enjoyable.”

sometimes – is when someone they trust talks to them about it. The fantastic thing the trade unions as a movement have got is that network of trusted people right across the country who can say to people “You can do this, and it’ll make a real difference.” That’s the first thing unions can do – and obviously the Union Learning Fund is absolutely critical to that process. But unions can go further – training is obviously an issue that unions have rightly put on the agenda in their general negotiating strategy for a long time now and that’s also very important. We very much agree with the Government that we’d like to see more employer investment in skills. How far do you think the Skills Pledge is going to be an effective mechanism for driving up employer commitment? I think the Skills Pledge is an important part of an overall package. The Leitch implementation plan, World Class Skills, sets out to create a new culture in this country, one where if an individual is in a deadend job, their friend will say: “Why don’t you get some more skills?” And if an employer complains: “I can’t get the workforce I want,” the response will be: “What are you doing to train them?” And the government’s response to both of them will be: “We will help you.” The Skills Pledge is one of the ways in which we’re trying to bring about that change in employer responsibility, so that one of the marks of a good employer in

our society becomes their commitment to train employees. And we will push the Skills Pledge very strongly: we’re about to go out on ministerial roadshows with the CBI covering all the regions of the country to promote it and that will continue. It also goes with the changes we’re making in the delivery of skills. Train To Gain should mean the relationship between what employers and employees want and the way that colleges deliver skills will be better, more suited to the individual and the workplace. Changes like that are enormously important, too. The launch of the Adult Careers Service is going to be very important in helping people at the workplace access the advice they need. We’ve got 18,000 ULRs spread across a wide range of workplaces, a whole volunteer army that didn’t exist nine years ago. Do you have any thoughts on how we might increase the contribution and scope of what ULRs and unionlearn can bring to the table? I’d be wrong to say that we’ve got detailed plans but I can absolutely assure you that ULRs have already been identified in the department as a potential resource as we develop the adult guidance system. One of the things I’ve believed for a long time (based on talking to constituents as much as anything) is that getting from an unsatisfying, badly-paid, dead-end job into a better job is usually just as difficult as getting off unemployment into work,

Double act (left and above): Liz Smith and John Denham discuss how government and unions can work togther to advance workplace learning

and involves all the same issues – training, childcare, transport. We need to have an Adult Careers Service that can give rounded support. It will inevitably be an organisation that draws on the skills of lots of different organisations rather than one single organisation, but ULRs will be enormously important not just as a point of contact with the service but as a way of putting people in touch with other agencies. One of the things to talk about is a role for ULRs outside their own workplaces. There are many communities where members of the target group for the advice service are – if they are in work – certainly not in unionised work. It may be that some of the problems they face at work are not knowing about employment rights and things of that sort. So one of the interesting things we’ll want to discuss with ULRs is, in addition to what they can do in the workplace, are there things they can do outside it, where they can take the skills and knowledge they’ve got and help communicate them to other people? There have been recent changes to ESOL funding, with a lot of consultation. Do you think the Government’s going to be able to protect that provision in this new climate and be successful in getting employers to contribute more to ESOL training? I think we can. People need to recognise that the ESOL budget had actually tripled in the space of just a few years and it wasn’t really tenable

autumn 2007 «


Photos by Jess Hurd

» Interview » John Denham

Funding formulas like this probably all make sense to a chemistry graduate like John Denham

for the government not to look at the priorities we have for ESOL. There was a real danger in some parts of the country that the expansion of ESOL was biting into budgets that would otherwise go for numeracy or literacy or the other training that we wanted people to have. If you’re in that situation, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to say that those who benefit should make a contribution and to say to employers that if you bring people into the country it really should be your responsibility to make sure they have the English they need to do their work: it’s not obvious that it’s primarily a job for the taxpayer to pick up that bill because employers are benefiting from it. When Bill Rammell led on this last year, we heard people say there were some groups (for example, asylumseekers whose cases hadn’t been determined for a long time and some women who would find it very

difficult to prove they were entitled to the support) and we’ve made some changes to the system which should get the balance about right. But people should never forget that there is three times as much ESOL today as there was just five years ago and we’re really talking about how to make the best use of that money. Now, I hope for your sake and ours that we’re looking well into the future here, but when you finish this job, what’s the one thing you’d have liked to have achieved? The real test would be the change of culture so that individuals and employers recognise the responsibility they have to raise skill levels. We know there are individuals who already feel that, we know there are employers who do that, but it’s not standard across our society. So it would be that – to have brought about that culture change.

“I’d like to achieve a change of culture where individuals and employers recognise their responsibilities to raise skills levels”

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John Denham CV Born in the seaside town of Seaton in Devon in 1953, John Denham went to Woodroffe Comprehensive School in Lyme Regis and studied chemistry at Southampton University, where he became president of the Students Union. While serving as a local councillor throughout the 1980s, he worked for War on Want, Christian Aid, Oxfam and other development agencies before winning Southampton Itchen for Labour at the third attempt in 1992. After Labour’s election victory in 1997, John served as a junior minister at the Department of Social Security, Department of Health and the Home Office, resigning in 2003 ahead of the Iraq War. He chaired the Home Affairs Select Committee during his time on the backbenches before joining Gordon Brown’s first Cabinet to run the newly-created Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills. John, who has three children, is an avid Saints fan who remains convinced that Southampton FC will once again enjoy Premiership football in the near future.

Commission for Employment and Skills « Feature «

Commission to speak, sir? The unions will need a strong voice on the new Commission for Employment and Skills if it is to succeed in its aims.


ne of the most significant elements of the Government’s response to the Leitch review is the establishment of the Commission for Employment and Skills, which is set to become fully operational early next year. The Government foresees a central role for the Commission in the long game to raise the country’s skills base, improve productivity and competitiveness, increase employment and help create a fairer society. It also hopes the Commission will play a critical part in securing a world-class profile on skills by 2020 and the aspiration of an 80 per cent employment rate. The TUC, which has welcomed the broad thrust of the Leitch implementation plan, remains concerned about the extent to which the Government is strengthening the employer-led approach on skills. “We will continue to press the

Government to give employees and trade unions a significant voice in the new institutional skills framework, in particular via the new Commission for Employment and Skills,” the TUC has pledged. The Commission will take over the functions of two existing bodies: the Sector Skills Development Agency, which currently oversees the network of Sector Skills Councils, and the National Employment Panel, the employer-led organisation which advises government on labour market policies and performance. It will be chaired by Sir Michael Rake, who has just taken over as chair of telecoms giant BT after five years at the top of KPMG International, where he was the

“Skills and sustained employment are at the heart of business growth and economic success”

driving force behind the accountancy firm’s award-winning corporate social responsibility programmes in the UK, tackling educational and social disadvantage. “Skills and sustained employment are at the heart of business growth and economic success: I am proud to pick up the challenge and ambitions set by Lord Leitch and drive forward this new organisation,” Sir Michael says.

What is the Commission for Employment and Skills? The Commission will play a critical part in securing a highly skilled, productive workforce and increasing employment levels, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It will: ● Advise ministers on strategy and policies relating to employment and skills. ● Assess progress towards achieving national employment and skills ambitions for 2020. ● Monitor the performance of Sector Skills Councils, and advise ministers on relicensing. The Government’s implementation plan emphasises that the new body will need to develop strong relationships with employers, trade unions and a wide range of key delivery bodies. You can download the Leitch implementation plan from the DIUS website: publications-leitchreview.htm

autumn 2007 «


» Feature » Employers

Norfolk gets By Martin Moriarty A massively successful learning partnership at Norfolk County Services has paid off for staff, the unions and the company.


here’s nothing like a bit of underdog action to liven up an awards ceremony, especially one fronted by Prince Charles in the plush surroundings of London’s Royal Albert Hall. And that’s exactly what happened at the Business in the Community Awards this summer when Norfolk County Services, a facilities management company based in the East of England, picked up the FirstGroup Skills for Life (‘Big Tick’) Award ahead of national and international players including Royal Mail and DHL. The company itself, created when the property services department at Norfolk County Council was hived off in 1998, is justifiably proud of its learning programme, which started five years ago. “I’d known for some time that we had some difficulties with numeracy and literacy following feedback from my managers about people not understanding instructions, not

Exalted company: the NCS team at the BiTC Awards (Eve Huggins, Tricia Fuller, Hilary Hale and Director Tony Williams) flanked by the Prince of Wales (second left) and former US Vice-President Al Gore (third right)

understanding health and safety, not understanding their pay slip,” recalls Human Resources Director Tricia Fuller. “We’d made some tentative approaches as to how we might go about this but to be quite honest we’d run into the buffers and didn’t quite know how to do it.” Enter general union GMB Training and Development Manager Jenny Webber, who convinced Tricia that the way to make things happen was to take the union route. That’s how all five unions at the company, led by the GMB and UNISON, put in a bid to the Union Learning Fund, and Learning Lift-Off was launched. “In the beginning, the way we looked at it was to get the nontraditional learner back into learning, so it had to be fun courses – cake decorating and things like that – just to get people back into learning,” explains Learning and Development Manager Hilary Hale. The programme became more qualifications-focused when NCS secured a further two years’ backing from the European Social Fund (ESF), which enabled it to offer literacy, numeracy and IT qualifications as well as NVQs (100 have been completed to date).

Because its 4,400 staff are spread across 1,100 sites, many in remote rural areas, the project arranged courses after work in training and conference facilities, hotels, youth clubs – whatever fitted in the locality. “In a school kitchen, for example, if you’ve got two people out in a day, your whole service is at risk,” Hilary says. “That’s why we organised the courses in the evening so it gave staff the chance to do them after work and it helped us to put them on without that overload.” NCS also paid learners half their hourly rate to encourage greater takeup, and encouraged managers to take the National Tests in literacy and numeracy to reduce the stigma and help change staff attitudes.

GMB ULR Eve Huggins (right) has completed 14 courses in the past two years and encouraged 100 colleagues to return to learning

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Employers « Feature «

Photo by Peter Everard Smith

a Big Tick “When a cleaner sees their area manager has taken the test, they think: ‘Well, they’ve done it, so I can too,’ and that really encouraged people to take part,” Hilary says. Developing the skills of its staff has definitely paid off for the company. Not only has NCS reduced accident rates and cut recruitment costs, it has also picked up new business as a direct result of its learning programme. A new partnership in 2004 to deliver strategic services to Suffolk Coastal District Council was “almost directly attributable” to the learning programme, according to Tricia, and, in another venture currently under negotiation, the learning component of the NCS offer is “ringing all the bells,” she says. But the project has just not helped the company: it’s also paid off for the unions by raising their profile and demonstrating the added value of holding a membership card. “ULRs have been able to show the whole workforce that trade unions are not always about strikes and conflict, but about positive partnership with the employer and helping members to improve their lives and gain qualifications,” says the GMB’s Jenny Webber. One particularly successful ULR is GMB member and mobile cook manager Eve Huggins. She’s encouraged over 100 work colleagues to access education and training, as well as taking 14 courses of her own over the last two years. “I thought that I couldn’t go out and ask people to do courses if I didn’t know what they were like myself!” she says. Like the rest of her ULR colleagues, Eve took her responsibilities to her learners very seriously: she often gave them a lift to courses in her car and stayed there with them if they felt like they needed a helping hand.

How learning works at NCS ● 1,935 staff (44 per cent of the

workforce) have accessed some type of learning ● 547 staff have accessed Skills for Life training ● 47 per cent of area managers have taken national literacy and numeracy courses ● Staff satisfaction up by 20 per cent, with feedback from staff surveys crediting learning and development ● £40,000 saved on recruitment budget due to increased internal staff development ● Skills training a major factor in winning new contract with Suffolk Coastal District Council.

And her commitment to her own personal development has paid off as well, since she now teaches refresher training within the company (and picked up the Individual Award for the East of England at the prestigious Adult Learners’ Week Awards this year, run by NIACE). Everyone agrees that a crucial part of the programme’s success has been the effective joint work on it by management and unions. “Without the partnership approach between the unions and NCS, the programme wouldn’t have worked at all because the unions could get to parts of the organisation that we couldn’t reach,” Tricia says. As for the future, Tricia is thinking about moving beyond voluntary Skills for Life learning. “I think the next phase for us will be to make it a – I hate the word – compulsory part of employment, but we’re a little bit away from that yet!” she says.

autumn 2007 «


» Feature » Gilda O‘Neill

The girl done

good G

rowing up in the 1950s and ’60s, when most working class girls were expected to get married and have children, Gilda O’Neill decided she was going to be an architect. So when she won a place at grammar school by passing the 11Plus, she turned it down because they didn’t teach technical drawing and chose South East Essex County Technical High School instead. But when she arrived there, she was told that technical drawing was the preserve of the boys: she’d be doing domestic science instead (“and this was in the 1960s – not the 1860s!” she points out indignantly.) Miserable that she wasn’t allowed to study what she’d set her heart on, she was dispatched to see the careers teacher. But when Gilda said she’d like to be a concert pianist or a poet, the woman dismissed her literary ambitions with the words: “That’s ridiculous – a little girl like you will never become a writer.” She got that wrong. Gilda’s since gone on to become a familiar name in the best-seller lists, with her personal recollections and oral histories of the East End where she was born. Her family couldn’t have been more traditional: her grandmother had a pie and mash shop, her grandfather was a tug skipper on

18 » autumn 2007

the Thames and her great-uncle was a minder for Daddy Lee, who ran a gambling den in Limehouse’s Chinatown. Brought up in a family home without any books, the future best-selling author began working her way through the local library in Dagenham, Essex, where the family had moved to when she was still a child. “I’d read my way through the junior library by the time I was 11, so I began pestering the staff to let me join the adults’ section,” she recalls. The only problem was that when they finally relented, she didn’t have a clue what to choose, so she went for the thinnest volume she could find. That’s how she ended up taking home Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, in which the founder of psychoanalysis argues we never stop thinking about sex, even when we’re asleep. “When I read it, I thought: ‘Oh blimey!’ so I got them to help me choose something next time, and they put me onto HE Bates and things like that!” she laughs. Nevertheless, despite a natural love of learning and an unusual breadth in her reading, Gilda felt so unhappy at school that she even paid the £10 necessary to leave early at the age of 15, making sure the headmaster was in no doubt of her opinion of him as she

Photo by Jess Hurd

East End girl Gilda O’Neill was told she’d never become a writer when she was at school. So how come she’s in the best-seller lists today? By Martin Moriarty

Gilda O’Neill « Feature «

Gilda as a lit tle she met whe girl (left), playing with a friend n she and he r mum went hop-picking

disappeared through the school gates for the final time (“I was a feisty little thing!”). She then began putting together a very colourful CV, doing everything from a short stint in a pub (“I was the world’s worst barmaid for a day: they wanted me to wear hotpants and I told them to get stuffed!”) to psychedelically lighting an early London gig by guitar hero Jimi Hendrix (“the only thing my kids are actually proud of me for doing!”). It was after getting married and having two children that she began to think about returning to learning as an adult – specifically while she was watching over her second son, who spent the first few weeks of his life at Great Ormond Street “with all sorts of tubes plugged into him”. “I was there 24 hours a day and the nurse said ‘You can’t just sit there the whole time, you’ve got to do something,’ so I started an Open University course,” she recalls. “Because of my bad experience at school, I’d forgotten how much I’d loved learning: but it was as though I’d been given my life back in an odd sort of way – although I was very happily married and had two wonderful kids, there was a gap, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing things that

autumn 2007 «


» Feature » Gilda O’Neill

Photo by Jess Hurd

didn’t fulfil me – and education did fulfil me.” Never one to do things by halves, Gilda completed three degrees and started a doctorate on housing policy (“I was getting my own back for not being allowed to become an architect!” she says). It was around that time that she attended a history conference in Oxford where one of the major speakers was spouting – in her words – “the biggest load of crap” about the working class and crime. “He was saying the working class become criminals because they’re poor, but from my background I do know some dodgy people and for most of them, it’s because they don’t want to graft: it’s a career choice – although it’s a very bad one in my opinion!” she recalls. “So I argued with him – which made him really furious because I was not the sort of person he expected to challenge him – but two publishers came up to me afterwards and offered me the chance to write a book.” That was how she came to write Lost Voices: Memories of a Vanished Way of Life, a history of hop-picking in Kent – something she herself had done as a child, alongside thousands of other East Enders. “So many other writers have treated the East End like an anthropological project – we’re like some weird tribe they’ve found and I find it quite offensive, to be honest,” she says. And the books have kept on coming ever since. Lost Voices has been followed by My East End: Memories of Life in Cockney

“The fantastic thing about ULRs is that they’re showing people they’re entitled to learning” London, Our Street: East End Life in the Second World War and The Good Old Days: Poverty, Crime and Terror in Victorian London. But she’s not only a non-fiction writer: Gilda’s also published novels including the East End-based trilogy Of Woman Born and the family saga Rough Justice. “Whatever I write, whether it’s crime, family sagas or the nonfiction, it’s all because there’s an issue that’s important to me, otherwise you might as well write a comic – although there’s nothing wrong with graphic novels!” she says. A keynote speaker at unionlearn’s annual conference this summer (where she went down a storm with the delegates), Gilda herself was enormously impressed with the way ULRs are helping co-workers access new educational opportunities. “I wasn’t being addressed when I was at school, but that’s the fabulous thing about the learning reps: they’re addressing people in ways that give them opportunities and show them they’re entitled,” she says. “There was such a buzz at that conference!” Her next project is East End Tales, which is part of the next wave of Quick Reads to be launched early next year.

Alongside Gilda O’Neill’s East End Tales (Penguin), another nine Quick Reads titles are to be published on Thursday 6 March 2008, at just £1.99 each. ● Humble Pie by Gordon

Ramsay (HarperCollins) ● The Girl on the Platform by

Josephine Cox HarperCollins) ● One Good Turn by Chris Ryan

(Arrow) ● Life’s New Hurdles by Colin

Jackson (Accent Press) ● Happy Families by Adele

Parks (Penguin) ● The Hardest Test by Scott

Quinnell (Accent Press) ● RaW Voices of Hardship and

Hope introduced by Vanessa Feltz (BBC Books) ● The Ten Keys to Success by John Bird (Vermillion) ● Revenge of the Judoon a Doctor Who title by Terrance Dicks (BBC Books) For more information, visit:

Gilda is deeply impressed with the way ULRs are helping their co-workers access learning

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More Quickies on the way

“I’m really excited about it,” she says. “I know from the response I’ve had to the earlier books that people want to read about community – I’ve even had a fan letter from an old man in Hawaii who said the stories in My East End reminded him of his village,” she says. “How cool is that!” Although the new book is rooted in the East End, Gilda hopes it will get people thinking about the communities they grew up in all over the country. And it probably will: the more specific a book is, the more universal it can become (the letter from Hawaii is proof of that). “I hope people enjoy reading it – I’ve written it with so much passion because I know what books mean to me and I hope it will encourage people to write their own stories because we’ve all got them,” she says.

Organising « Feature «

The serious pursuit of

organising All over the country, ULRs are making sure that workplace learning builds the union. The case studies over the next four pages show just how it’s done.

By Astrid Stubbs autumn 2007 «


» Feature » Organising

How do you get a team together? Team work is behind the huge success of learning and organising at the Tesco store in Longton, Stokeon-Trent, where already high USDAW membership has been boosted to 99 per cent – some 450 employees. That’s had a domino effect on organising with new members becoming ULRs or members like Malcolm Glannister moving on from being a ULR to becoming a health and safety representative. Staff, who mostly work in shelf-stacking and check-out, have taken to learning with a vengeance thanks to their union: USDAW has a national policy on learning and organising and organising is informally a part of all full-time organisers’ roles. “USDAW initiated this work in partnership with Tesco, but really ULRs are the catalyst and driving force behind this project,”


Motivated ULRs (with USDAW General Secretary John Hannett, centre) are the catalyst for successful union-led learning at Tesco’s

How do you mainstream learning? Go no further than the Argos distribution centre in Basildon to witness the massive success of learning and organising. Argos’s nine distribution centres, where Unite – T&G section is recognised, are the lifeblood of the company, ensuring that customers get the goods they want when they want them. The scale of the operation is enormous with centres covering an area the size of 100 football pitches, each employing 400 people on average (although that figure can double during periods like Christmas). According to senior shop steward at the Basildon centre Mark Barter, success of learning is all down to mainstreaming it into core trade union business.


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Learning has boosted recruitment, says Mark Barter (below)

All reps, whether health and safety, shop stewards or ULRs, work well together, attending courses and developing their activist skills, he says. This mainstream working has enabled Unite – T&G section to organise workers who previously may never have engaged with the union, including migrant workers and people who have been anti-union. “I noticed how many people

explains project worker Ed Leach. ULRs spoke to over 200 people as part of a learning needs analysis across the store and in the process

were joining the union on the back of learning,” says Mark – membership has leapt from 50 per cent to 90 per cent, he says. Learning has also helped Mark in his union work (he has overall responsibility for coordinating Unite - T&G section at Argos). “IT skills have improved organising skills. For example, using a spreadsheet to keep track of where members and nonmembers are, shift patterns, demography of the workforce,” he says. Learning is good for the reps, good for the members and good for the business. “This is really changing the perception of the union: we are finding people who previously were anti-union are now joining the union, which is great,” says Mark. Polish ULR Honorata Lipka got involved in the union to improve her English and is now a ULR. “The learning agenda and ESOL are a great way to encourage

Organising « Feature «

How can you change people’s ideas?

recruited a high number of members. “A good team approach is essential. We have such a great team of mobilised and motivated representatives and the branch secretary helps to co-ordinate and support the activity of all representatives including ULRs,” says Ed. “The link between trade unions and learning is historic and well founded. By its nature the learning agenda presents a positive view of trade unions to members and potential members and for that reason is an incredibly effective recruitment tool,” he says. “Because of its positive appeal, it also tends to attract a wider range of people into the ULR role, broadening the base of union activists which reflects the diversity of an organisation’s members.” Learning presents a positive image of trade unionism to potential members

migrant workers and agency workers to get involved in the union as well as other staff members. We all work really well together. As a bilingual ULR it has been easier for me to reach out to migrant workers and get them involved which has been good for them and good for Argos.”

When ULRs at PCS branches at the Rural Payments Agency in Carlisle and Workington introduced learning they found they were engaging a new group of members – ex-members! The union has reported a significant increase in membership as a direct result of activity to promote learning in the workplace. Both branches ran union stalls in the workplace as part of activity around Learning at Work Day, and at both sites, employees requested information on joining the union. At the Workington site, 18 people signed up to the union, with around 15 new members joining up at the Carlisle office. ULR Vivienne Frazer, who is based at the Workington site, said she had noticed that a number of the new recruits had been members in the past and had been attracted back into the union because of the positive work around promoting learning. Jennifer Baron, Assistant Branch Secretary at the Carlisle RPA PCS branch, explained that her branch had been promoting learning as part of an overall strategy to raise the profile of the union and communicate with members more effectively, and it appears to be having the desired positive effect on membership growth. “As well as Learning at Work Day and open days, we find now that members are talking to non-members and getting the message across that way,” says Vivienne.


Learning helps involve migrant workers, says Honorata Lipka (left)

autumn 2007 «


» Feature » Organising

How do you include agency staff? Now that learning is an established fact at the on-site Turtle Learning Centre at Corus Scunthorpe steel works, developing learning and organising into new areas is a priority. The union already runs a variety of courses from Skills for Life through to ICT. TUC Union Safety Rep courses have also proved an extremely effective way of recruiting and training safety reps. And the branch plans to hold a union reps course. Unite – Amicus section has a very high density of membership on site among permanent staff, but Corus increasingly uses agency staff and the union is using learning opportunities to recruit and organise among these external staff. In addition, Corus employs some 50 apprentices each year and the union has an arrangement to see them at various stages, offering them the opportunity to join the union. The branch also appoints workplace reps to look after the apprentices during their three-year programme. Bill Gray, learning centre coordinator, says the union now wants to make inroads into learning among staff working for contractors. “These are some of the lowest-skilled who have the most difficulty with literacy and numeracy: we really do need to start looking at engaging that group,” he says. Bill adds that targetting literacy and numeracy among staff on site is also a key priority in the next phase of learning at the centre. The union is on the verge of signing a learning agreement with Corus, based on the proven success of the Turtle centre, and Unite – Amicus section will use this as an incentive to ensure there is a full coverage of ULRs organising across the site, says Bill.


How can you reach out to migrants? Unite – T&G section has built learning and organising bases around ESOL courses for hundreds of mainly Eastern European migrant workers at two of the major bus companies in Manchester, First Bus and Stagecoach, as well as at Manchester Airport. This in turn has led to the recruitment of the drivers through both education and organising as the learners see first-hand the benefits of joining a trade union – approximately 100 new members have been signed up. Other benefits to new members include help with work permits, translation provision and housing along, with the day-to-day problems that can occur for migrant workers. “All this plus English classes provided in their workplace with an agreement for paid time off to learn has helped make the initial period in a strange country far easier for the workers,” explains John Lea, local learning organiser for Unite – T&G section.


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Organising ESOL classes has helped Unite – T&G section recruit dozens of new members

Manchester Airport was a further target, where a Unite – T&G section learning organiser conducted over 500 training needs analyses and helped recruit over 700 staff to courses. A new learning centre is due to open shortly at the airport. “We took on board the fact that the more people we can help, the more we can recruit for the union,” says John Lea. “In the short term, people are becoming members, some have become shop stewards and one member has helped translate for colleagues with disciplinary problems. “We have helped members not only with courses but also with all kinds of problems that they face such as housing problems or sorting out a mobile phone. All of this helps us organise and promote the union and give unions generally a good profile.”

Organising « Feature « Rugby players scrum down in the kitchen on a cookery course courtesy of the GMB’s Conversion to Learning project

How can you change the rules? Many unions are changing their own structures to help them take advantage of the organising opportunities created by the advance of workplace learning. The Communication Workers Union has agreed new policy and rule changes to bring union learning into the mainstream of its structures and democratic processes. Policies which fully incorporate the role of ULRs into the CWU branch and regional structure were passed at the union’s conference in a strong sign of the growing recognition of the importance of union learning and of the way it can enhance the ability of unions to organise and recruit in the workplace. “This recognises that ULRs are here to stay and gives them parity with other representatives,” explains CWU Head of Education and Training Trish Lavelle. “Union learning is an important part of the ‘CWU offer’ and is helping us engage with literally thousands of our members and potential members every year in a really positive way.” At teaching union ATL, the organising and learning teams have always worked closely but in recent years the union has put in place a structure to ensure both teams effectively integrate their work. “ATL has adopted a more systematic approach to learning and organising activities,” explains Head of Recruitment and Organisation Mark Holding. “Involving new people in active learning through the union route is all about organising; the first step to activism is engagement; getting existing members involved in the union can lead to activism and this is what organising is all about,” he says. A recent survey of ATL’s ULRs found that 40 per cent had not been active in previous roles and it was significant that most new ATL branch secretaries trained as ULRs with a proportion also progressing into wider union roles.


How do you promote your project? The GMB Conversion To Learning Project uses sports people like Sonny Nickle, the former Great Britain Rugby League International, to promote lifelong learning. The Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) and the British Boxers Association (BBA) were the launch pad for the project, which seeks to engage with sports people and emphasises the importance of planning for a future career now – not when their playing days are over. Players and boxers are encouraged to become role models to encourage others to plan for their future and learn new skills in a comfortable atmosphere, where they feel at ease.


The project also aims to introduce learning centres into sporting clubs, encouraging learning in an enjoyable social centre. Membership of these associations has now increased by 13 per cent since the project kicked off last year with seven learning agreements signed with clubs. The project also provides the union with a platform to promote other benefits of union membership. International rugby league players and boxers are actively promoting the project and the benefits of GMB membership to the public in general. And the union plans to use the opportunity for more recruitment as the project engages with more employers.

How can you reach far-flung members? ULRs like Brian Lewis are taking to the road to bring learning and a new organising agenda to colleagues across Dorset. Brian is lead ULR with the Wilts and Dorset Bus Company, getting behind the wheel to drive a Learning Bus to some 800 employees in the county. Brian and fellow ULRs are using the bus to bring learning closer to learners at times to suit individual needs around shift patterns and family commitments. In this way the RMT union aims to help break down the barriers to learning by providing a relaxed and friendly environment for members to develop, learn new skills and build confidence. Courses include computing, languages and signing as well as Skills for Life. The bus has allowed the RMT to


reach out to new groups of members, including a sizeable number of Polish and other Eastern European workers who have signed up after being offered ESOL courses, according to unionlearn Project Worker Ann Hall. The bus aids organising through learning by reaching out to members spread across a huge area of the county and providing them with space to learn. “Our ULRs are the ones who are driving it: they are the ones who can talk to members,” she says. RMT ULR Brian Lewis got to meet author Minette Walters on World Book Day this year

autumn 2007 «


n g i S

» Update » Skills Pledge

of the times

By Astrid Stubbs


he Skills Pledge gives unions the chance to work with employers to help learners gain at least a full Level 2 qualification, according to the TUC. “The Skills Pledge will prove to be a high-profile mechanism for unions and employers to promote joint commitment and action on skills in the workplace,” the TUC says. The longer-term support provided by ULRs has been crucial in helping learners taking Skills for Life courses. Now the TUC argues that the Skills Pledge is an opportunity to empower many more employees to achieve a Level 2 qualification as well as accreditation in Skills for Life. "We very much want to work with employers to make the Pledge a success,” says TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber. “When we work in partnership, we know that we really

Gordon Brown is backing the Skills Pledge

26 » autumn 2007

FirstGroup has done it. Nissan has done it. Even Center Parcs has done it. Hundreds of employers all over the country have taken the Skills Pledge.

can make things happen out in the workplaces of Britain.” The Skills Pledge was launched earlier this year as part of the Government’s response to the Leitch Review, which set out the case for urgent action on the skills agenda. Without a better skilled and qualified workforce, we will not improve our productivity or sustain the living standards and quality of public services we all

“The Skills Pledge will prove to be a high-profile mechanism for unions and employers to promote joint commitment and action on skills in the workplace”

want, Lord Leitch argued. One of the first organisations to put its name to the Pledge was Merseytravel, the North-West public transport body. “We’re proud to make the Skills Pledge and we pledge to continue to develop new ways of training our staff through our pioneering training arm Merseylearn,” said Chief Executive and Director General Neil Scales. “As one of only nine companies given Investors in People ‘Champion’ status this year, it’s important we also share our success and encourage other organisations to look at ways to maximise the potential of their staff.” Neil said the organisation signed the Pledge to underline its continuing commitment to investing in skills. “We recognise that involving employees and boosting their skills

Skills Pledge « Update «

Urge your employers to register their interest in making the Skills Pledge by calling 08000 15 55 45 or at www.

through training we can encourage greater levels of motivation and staff retention and offer better service to our customers.” The first employer to sign the Pledge in the North-East was Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK, based in Sunderland, which last year won a National Training Award for the NVQ and Skills for Life training it provides to staff. “The business benefits of training are clear and at Nissan we see a direct correlation between training and improvements in productivity, explained Training and Development Manager Steve Pallas.

“If we measure key performance indicators before and after training we always see an improvement. We are proud to take the Skills Pledge, because it underpins our ongoing commitment to innovation and leadership in training in our sector.” The full list of 250 backers also now includes opticians Dollond & Aitchison, transport company FirstGroup, holiday company Center Parcs, and the TUC itself. The TUC, unionlearn and individual unions are now putting pressure on other employers to follow their lead and sign the Pledge, to boost its benefits for the workforce and to

Merseytravel’s Neil Scales was one of the first employers to sign the Skills Pledge

build the union learning agenda. They are also working on strategies to deliver even more from the Pledge than the Skills for Life/Level 2 guarantee. Unionlearn’s board has already agreed a proactive approach to the Pledge, including: ● Supporting unions/ULRs to work with Sector Skills Councils and employers to develop a sectoral approach to the Pledge ● Persuading employers in unionised workplaces to incorporate a commitment to Apprenticeships in their Pledge ● Ensuring that ULF and unionlearn regional projects support delivery of the Pledge. The TUC is also involved with the Public Services Forum to promote take-up of the Skills Pledge across public services which will involve employers signing up to a wider skills offer.

A mini guide for ulrs on the Pledge is available at

autumn 2007 «


Photos by West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service

» Feature » TUC Education

The only way is up M

embership of the Fire Brigades Union is spreading throughout the whole of the UK Fire and Rescue Service and the training and development of ULRs is key to the union’s lifelong learning agenda. But with members in urban and rural areas, some of which are very remote, time off issues and access to TU courses can sometimes be a problem. That’s where the TUC’s online learning portfolio came in. Recruited by ULF regional coordinators, 51 FBU members in England, Wales and Scotland showed their commitment by becoming ULRs and going forward to do the ULR course online. The course runs out of the TU Education centre in Newcastle College. In order to support learners, FBU ULF Project Manager Trevor Shanahan and five of the ULF

28 » autumn 2007

project coordinators broke the course into smaller groups, which allowed closer contact with the ULRs and offered support from the union itself. Time off arrangements to access the course at work and the use of ICT equipment was also made in many of the brigades. The FBU customised the course with case studies and interview situation material that related directly to the FBU and the Fire and Rescue Service workplaces. “This is the first time that the FBU has been involved in using the TUC online course facility to train ULRs. The ability to be able to offer the

“I am delighted to have the FBU involved in this great initiative to bring training to where people are”

online course to over 50 members and use bespoke FBU material to achieve ULR accreditation was an option we had to take up,” said Trevor. FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack also welcomed the opportunity to use the online course facility to train officials. “I would like to offer all the ULRs the support of the FBU in completing the online course and look forward to their active involvement in the promotion of the FBU and unionlearn’s lifelong learning agenda in the future,” he said. Unionlearn Director Liz Smith has worked with the FBU since the early days of the Union Learning Fund and knows how hard the union’s worked to build learning and skills into its organisation. “I’m delighted to have the FBU involved in this great initiative to bring training to where people are!” she said.

TUC Education « Feature «

The virtue of virtual


undreds of learndirect courses are now available online for millions of trade unionists thanks to a partnership between unionlearn and Newcastle College Trade Union Education Centre. The new Online Learning Centre, which will revolutionise access to education for millions of union members and their families, was formally launched at this year's TUC Congress. Users can access over 500 learndirect courses in computer skills, business and management, languages and Skills for Life via the internet at home, work, or in workbased learning centres with a personal tutor to support them to achieve their aims. The flexible nature of OLC means that traditionally hard-to-reach learners will be able to learn in their own time and will get the most from the interactive courses. The OLC will also be a valuable resource for the 18,000-plus ULRs throughout the country who have identified that it is often difficult for members to access traditional classroom-based learning. ULRs will act as the first line of information and advice, supporting the member to use the online website and select the course that is right for their needs and helping them to create an account. “The Online Learning Centre is

another example of Britain’s unions working with the further education sector to bring new opportunities to millions of people,” says unionlearn Director Liz Smith. “Our ULRs will take the new service into their workplaces, giving union members even more chances to change their lives through learning.” Margaret Stephenson, Head of Trade Union Education at Newcastle College Trade Union Education Centre, says: “We are delighted to have played a part in offering over six million trade union members and their families a flexible and interactive way of fitting learning into their lives.”

To access the Online Learning Centre log onto: For further information relating to the OLC email:

How courses pay off As if proof were needed of the value of trade union studies, this is a letter sent from a former course attendant to a tutor in Humberside. “My colleague got charged with gross misconduct and her hearing was today. At first I asked for the branch secretary to do it because I didn’t think I knew enough, but when I got the evidence from the manager I was so mad about the lies he told I decided I did want to do it! “I thought about all you said – be prepared and take control –

and went in with a pile of statements I had managed to get from various people. I thought about all they would come up with and had all the relevant answers ready. They were not prepared. We won! With the evidence presented to them, they said there was no charge to answer. “You were right – it’s a great feeling to keep someone’s job for them. Thanks for giving me the confidence during the course to go in there and do battle!”

autumn 2007 «


» Feature » Adult Learners’ Week

A week is a long time Up and down the country, unions used all sorts of innovative schemes to encourage people to try out the wide range of sessions and courses on offer during this year’s Adult Learners’ Week.

Hitting the spot Trying a bit of archery during this year’s Adult Learners’ Week hit the spot for Jane Bailey and Kath Alexander, Unite – Amicus section ULRs at Co-operative Financial Services in Stockport. They got the chance to work on their skills with bow-and-arrow courtesy of Stockport College, who also ran taster sessions on Indian Head Massage, Yoga and Football Coaching, while

a range of alternative health practitioners offered staff the chance to try reflexology, tai chi, nutrition as well as juggling, plate-spinning, stiltwalking and unicycling. “The week-long event was a great success, helping hardworking CFS staff relax, alleviate stress and try something new,” says Unite – Amicus section Regional Learning Organiser Javaid Aslam. “We hope to work with the company to see the lifelong learning agenda go from strength to strength.”

High jinks at High Down Over 210 staff attended a wide range of events for Learning at Work Day at High Down Prison, culminating in a teambuilding tug o’war contest in which Houseblock 4 overcame the governor’s side, as was only appropriate on a day organised by the union learning team. In the main hall of the staff mess, Val Tull helped colleagues make 35 hanging baskets, Claire Harris organised a fun deaf awareness competition won by Tanuja Cook, Annabel Broom ran a session on the Art of Living packed full of de-stressing advice; while one of the mechanics from local car dealer JD Motors ran a basic car maintenance workshop in the learning centre.

30 » autumn 2007

Food and drink were also on offer: Ewen Lindsey and his staff cooked a fabulous barbeque with lots of healthy salads, while ULR Jackie Burke whizzed up over 200 glasses of healthy juices using a combination of fruit and vegetables. In addition to the tug o’war competiton, there was also pitch and putt, won by the so-called “Terrible Twins” Andy Eaton and Dave Callaway. All the activities helped draw new people into the learning centre, where over 150 staff completed basic skills initial assessments, 40 books were borrowed from the library and resident fire officer Tony Johnson won the trivia quiz. Lynne Wilmer praised all the members of her ULR team for their

All smiles from Houseblock 4, the winning team in the Learning at Work Day tug o’war competition at High Down Prison

help in putting everything together – Jackie Burke, Maria Killigrew, Andy Millar, Martin Pickett, Sian Garrard and Clive Orpwood – and her right-hand woman in the centre, Sophie Thomas, who helped organise and prepare the stalls in the morning.

Adult Learners’ Week « Feature «

in learning Photo by Howard Davies

Gaining new literacy skills has put Declan MacIntyre in the driving seat

Tasting the difference

MacIntyre investigates! After conquering his own literacy problems and encouraging his workmates to follow in his footsteps, Declan MacIntyre picked up an individual award in the Adult Learners’ Week Awards this summer. It was the imminent birth of his son Finn nearly four years ago that convinced the 41-year-old GMB shop steward to return to learning. “I knew my difficulties with reading and writing would stop me helping my son with his development if I didn’t to address them,” he says. Declan got started with a Skills for Life course, for which he got paid release from Brighton City Council’s refuse and recycling service Cityclean, where he works as an HGV driver. “I’m not going to say it wasn’t difficult, but it was brilliant, I loved it: the way we were taught, the atmosphere in the class and the tutors were all superb, and after doing a couple of hours a week for two years, I passed the Level 2

National Test,” he says. And he hasn’t stopped there. He’s starting GCSE English this term and is currently doing some heavy-duty mental training by studying “the knowledge” (the mental map of Brighton & Hove local taxi drivers use). “It’s a bit like climbing Everest because remembering names is virtually impossible for me: it’s got to be the hardest thing I can imagine doing, but it’s to develop my learning, not because I want to become a taxi driver.” He also trained to become a union learning rep himself to help more of his colleagues with their personal development. “It was very hard initially: there was a fair bit of stigma as far as learning went, but with the help of Cityclean Learning and Development Officer Elaine Sweetman, we got the classes going,” he says. “Now it’s got to the stage where we’ve got a waiting list for people to join, which is a massive turnaround in just two years.”

Unite – T&G section learning reps at a Sainsbury’s distribution depot in the West Midlands won the National Open College Network Group Award at the Adult Learners’ Week awards this summer. Andy Hall, Mark Astley and Linda Steward, from Sainsbury’s Hams Hall depot near Lea Marston in North Warwickshire, picked up the award for their work to open up new opportunities for union members who had left school without any qualifications. During the first 12 months of the scheme, over 100 staff passed their National Tests in Literacy and Numeracy and 500 people in total have joined the union since it launched the workplace learning programme. “The learning has led to us all feeling more confident and has given us a broader outlook,” explains senior shop steward Andy Hall. The team negotiated an agreement that gives 10 per cent of the workforce paid leave for learning, and worked with North Warwickshire and Hinckley College to have courses running throughout the day and night to accommodate the complexity of the shift patterns.

Show us the money Unionlearn Southern and Eastern Region provided grants worth up to £400 to help 60 union-led learning projects in the South-East and almost 80 in the London area put on Learning at Work Day events during Adult Learners’ Week. The money helped House of Commons staff run a book-swap, firefighters on the Isle of Wight learn basic maritime skills and Basingstoke printers try French food as well as French language courses.

autumn 2007 «


» Guest column » Changing career

Moving the

goal posts Former footballer Udo Onwere explains how his union helped him train as a solicitor


n old football manager of mine always used to say: “If you’re not sure where to pass the ball, just pass it into the goal!” So here I was, at the end of my 14-year professional football career (having played for Chelsea and Fulham among others), unsure of where to go and no goals to aim for. In some ways having a young family to support eased my predicament because there was no time to wallow in self-pity or wistfully reminisce about the glory days of my youth. As a schoolboy, my teachers and cautious career advisers, wise to the perils of professional sport, would say “pass your exams, so you have something to fall back on.” Well I was now falling back, and so I went to college. After a year at college, which reawakened dormant reading/writing skills, I undertook a three-year law degree at Middlesex University. People often ask why I studied law. My reasons were nothing more profound than that I had done reasonably well academically at school and I needed a job (ie, a lawyer) which could replace the kudos I had enjoyed as a footballer. In any event, my decision to study was encouraged and supported by the professional footballers’ union, the PFA. The PFA provided financial assistance with course fees, text

32 » autumn 2007

book costs and a computer as well as accessible useful advice on career choices and prospects. The image of a footballer is now one of ‘Beckhamesque’ wealth and fame, but the PFA provide an invaluable safety net for the vast majority of footballers who will eventually change careers and earn an average wage. After successfully completing my law degree, I had to complete a year at law school. Law school teaches the practical side of all the academic theory learned at university. It was around this time that I had to make applications to law firms to try and secure a training contract. A training contract is similar to a two year apprenticeship and is required before qualifying as a solicitor. Many CVs were sent out to Udo’s teachers always urged him to pass his exams so he’d have something to fall back on after football

potential employers and I was lucky to be called for a few interviews. Naturally, office job interviews were slightly more formal from the ones I was used to and I had to remember not to revert to type and blurt out the stock phrases of “sick as a parrot” or “over the moon!” In the end, I managed to get through law school and secured a training contract at Thomas Eggar, a leading law firm in the South East. I am hoping to qualify as a solicitor in March 2008 when my reinvention will be complete. It has been a rejuvenating journey made all the more possible with the unwavering support of the PFA. My advice to anyone changing careers would be to embrace the change, consider it an adventure and be comforted with the old saying of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Or as my old football manager would say: “If you don’t shoot, you don’t score.”

“The image of the footballer is one of Beckham-esque wealth but the majority earn an average wage”

Photo by Alex Mcguire

Changing career « Guest Column «

autumn 2007 «


» Interview » unionlearn board

All about integration Unions need to treat learning like they treat pay and conditions – as a core part of their day-to-day work, argues unionlearn board member Sue Ferns


nionlearn board member Sue Ferns grew up in Sheffield in the 1970s, when the heavily-unionised coal and steel industries dominated the local political landscape. “There were some great initiatives underway and a lot of political awareness in the city,” she recalls. “I had family members who were involved in the union movement – my granddad worked in the steel industry – although I was the first in my family to have the chance to go to university.” Armed with her degree, Sue got her first job in the economics department at the TUC in the early 1980s. After working at labour movement headquarters for ten years, Sue left to start a family, went freelance for time and then got a job at Prospect (or IPMS, as it then was) in 1993. Initially employed on a twoyear contract, she’s remained there ever since, becoming head of research and specialist services at the specialist, professional and managerial union in 2001. Learning is “hugely important” to Prospect, she says. “Although lots of our members are graduates, they’re all facing organisational change, and they all need to continually update their skills to ensure their continued employability.” The union has focused on providing advice and guidance to its members to both build confidence in their skills and develop transferable skills, as well as helping them enjoy learning outside work.

34 » autumn 2007

“One of our big areas is science and engineering, where there’s a huge under-representation of women,” she says. “So, through one of the Women and Work Sector Pathways projects, we’re trying to engage women in workshops to get them thinking about their own career development and to give them the confidence to go back to their organisations and take the opportunities they need,” she explains. Prospect has also just started a new Union Learning Fund project engaging potential learners in the land and environment sector. “It’s tremendously challenging because it’s so diverse, there’s lots of small workplaces and there aren’t many ULRs in that sector at the moment,” she says. Sue has “really enjoyed” her first year in the unionlearn board and is glad to see the partnerships with the Open University and the National Extension College which are helping learners progress beyond Level 2 qualifications. “Getting to Level 2 is not the end of the story – that should be seen as a stepping-stone for individuals, and where they want

to go higher, then they should have the opportunity to do that,” she says. For Sue, the biggest issue now facing all unions is mainstreaming learning. “We’ve made significant progress on this agenda: the core challenge now is to ensure it’s properly integrated into everything we do as a key part of the bargaining agenda.”

Roundup « Resources «

Jay knows Contact us... If you have a question you want answered or want to take part in online discussions, please visit www.unionlearn.

Q “I’m a ULR who has completed

ULR training more than a year ago and I'm keen to develop my skills and knowledge. What is available to me?” A There is a follow-on programme of short courses such as Skills for Life and the Union Role, Information, Advice and Guidance, Workforce Development – The ULR Role, Working with Employers, Negotiating with Employers on Learning Activities, Equality in the Workplace, How to Work with

Free resources for ULRs from unionlearn New posters, leaflets and booklets free of charge – and post and packing is free as well

A4 and A3 posters for the Learning and Careers Advice Line

Leaflet about the new union learning climbing frame

Online learning course guide from unionlearn with TUC Education Plus lots more . . . order now at

Jay Sreedharan, unionlearn’s website officer, answers some recent questions raised by site visitors

Providers and more. These can be found on the unionlearn website at You can talk to your Regional Education Officer about what's on near you. There is also a new course, ‘Building on the Learning Agenda – Organise to Learn, Learn to Organise’ which is being piloted in the North West, South East and Midlands this term. This is for experienced reps who want to work on how learning helps build the union at work. Check the

website for more details of local availability. Finally, unionlearn with TUC Education is working on a “Continuing Learning Rep Development” programme, designed to deliver a CPD approach to ULR training. We'll have more to say about this early next year – watch this space! For more information about these courses or other TUC Education courses please email

Learning Rep reader survey



600x Help us improve The Learning Rep, and you could win an iPod nano, memory stick or get a book. Complete our survey and you will be entered for a free prize draw. The first three lucky winners will receive a brand new 4GB iPod nano, and the next 10 will get a unionlearn 1GB memory stick. And if you’re one of the first 600 to respond to our survey we will send you a free copy of Gilda O’Neill’s book My East End (see pages 18 – 20).

You can access the survey online at It won’t take you long to complete. You might win a prize, and your opinions will help us improve the magazine. The draw will take place on Friday 14 December 2007 and the winners will be announced on the website.

autumn 2007 «


» contacts

unionlearn contacts All TUC email addresses are letter/ eg: All Congress House numbers begin with 020 7079 followed by four digits

» unionlearn

» Midlands team

Tel: 020 7079 6920 Fax: 020 7079 6921 Liz Smith, Director Secretary, 020 7079 6922

0121 236 4454 Mary Alys, Regional Manager Gary O’Donnell, Union Development Coordinator Pete Try, Regional Education Officer

» National unionlearn managers Ian Borkett, Standards and Quality Manager, x 6940 Bert Clough, Research and Strategy Manager, x 6925 Matthew Fernandez-Graham Business and Finance Manager, x 6936 Mike Power, Communications and Marketing Manager, x 6942 Liz Rees, Trade Union Education Manager, x 6923 Judith Swift, Union Development Manager, 0151 243 2568

» Learndirect centres 0191 227 5567 Helen Gagliasso

» Equal 0151 243 2571 Joe Fearnehough, Equal National Project Manager

» Website 020 7079 6943 Jay Sreedharan, Web Officer

» Southern and Eastern team 020 7467 1251 Barry Francis, Regional Manager Jon Tennison, Union Development Coordinator, Rob Hancock, Regional Education Officer

Supported by:

The Learning Rep is part of a community programme called Equal – a European Social Fund initiative which tests and promotes new means of combating all forms of discrimination and inequality in the labour market. The GB Equal Support Unit is managed by ECOTEC.

» Northern team Barney McGill, Regional Manager 0191 227 5552 Elizabeth Killoran, Union Development Coordinator 0191 227 5557 Ian West, Regional Education Officer 0191 227 5572

» North West team Dave Eva, Regional Manager 0151 236 2321 Tony Saunders, Union Development Coordinator, Liverpool office 0151 236 2321 Manchester office 0161 445 0077 Peter Holland, Regional Education Officer 0151 243 2564

» South West team Helen Cole, Regional Manager, Ros Etheridge, Union Development Coordinator, 0117 947 0521 Regional Development Workers: Alan Shearn, Bristol 0117 947 0521 Geoff Hale, Cornwall 01209 611 604 Marie Hughes, Regional Education Officer 0117 933 4443

» Yorkshire and Humberside team 0113 245 4909 Alan Roe, Regional Manager Sharon Burke, Union Development Coordinator Trevor Sargison, Regional Education Officer 0113 200 1071

» Union contacts Mark Holding ATL 020 7782 1596 Kirsi Kekki Connect 020 8971 6052 Trish Lavelle CWU 020 8971 7340 Trevor Shanahan FBU 07917 75 9473 Jennifer Moses, Stephen Smith NASUWT 0121 453 6150 Andrew Parry Williams NUT 020 7380 4800/4780 David McEvoy PCS 020 7801 2727 ext 2360 Andy Rowett POA 07917 699 210 Rachel Bennett Prospect 020 7902 6687 Andrew Barton RCN 0207 647 3657 Rail Union Learning RUL Programme Support Team 0207 317 8612 Jeff Hopewell UCATT 01302 360 725 Pam Johnson Unison 020 7551 1267 Tom Beattie Unite – Amicus section 020 8462 7755 Jim Mowatt Unite – T&G section 020 7611 2628 Graham Cooper URTU 07795 562 874 Ann Murphy USDAW 0161 224 2804

The Learning Rep - Autumn 07  

In the Autumn 07 issue: TUC Congress round-up, John Denham interview, Commission for Employment, Norfolk County Services, Gilda O'Neill inte...