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  • Employers and unions hail “enormous contribution” made by union learning to improving access to skills in London
  • Projects in the region range across literacy and numeracy, apprenticeship matching, mental health awareness, and qualifications in leadership and management

The TUC London region, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Make UK (the voice of engineering and manufacturing), have joined forces today (Monday) to call on the government to drop its proposal to scrap the Union Learning Fund. 

Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, has proposed to axe the £12 million annual Union Learning Fund, from spring 2021. The TUC warns that this will harm key industries like manufacturing, which will need to retrain workers for the challenges in the post-pandemic economy such as automation and the transition to net zero emissions.

Manufacturing in London generates £8.2bn of output per annum and provides 130,000 jobs.

Richard Burge, Chief Executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said:

“It’s clear that the Union Learning Fund has been valued by employers in London. With so much change due to Covid-19 impacting the capital’s workplaces and its labour market, with a clear need existing to support people in retraining, it’s hard to see why removing the funding makes sense.”

Make UK’s South, Regional Director Jim Davison said:

“These are incredibly challenging times for manufacturers and their employees in London. If we are going to ‘build back better’ the protection of key high value skills within the sector is an absolute must. The Union Learning Fund is a key element of retaining and re-training staff, especially when digital skills are going to be ever more important.”

TUC regional secretary for London, Sam Gurney, said:

“Union learning, led by union reps and organised with employers, has made an enormous contribution to workers’ skills and businesses in London. 

“When workers improve their skills and earn qualifications, their confidence grows, and they can gain promotion and higher pay. Union learning helps both union and non-union members alike onto these learning paths.

“For employers, workplace learning improvise staff moral and retention, and it boosts productivity, making firms more competitive.

That’s why major employers like Tesco, Heathrow Airport and Arla Foods are backing our campaign to save union learning. And it’s backed by business federations like London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Make UK, the Manufacturing Technologies Association, and the Food and Drink Federation.

“There’s wider benefits for us all too. When workers are higher skilled and more productive, it generates more revenue for government. So it means there’s more for our public services.“ 

Case studies

BECTU (Pospect) bite size learning, London-wide

As part of its response to the COVID-19 lockdown BECTU (Prospect), the union for media, broadcasting, theatre and exhibition professionals, is running a new, free, bitesize vocational learning programme that helps members in the creative industries keep up to date with knowledge and skills. In the first month (June) it delivered 44 sessions reaching in excess of 500 learners. This learning is delivered via Zoom across the week, including evenings and a Saturday morning session. Subjects have included health and safety updates around electrical safety and risk assessment, advice on advancing your career, script writing for radio and the web, and health and wellbeing in isolation. 

Rachel Bennett, Education and Skills Manager, said: “In addition to our online mentoring programme, a growing area of work is the careers support members require, as we move into the next phase of COVID-19 pandemic.”

RMT basic skills and bite size learning, London-wide

The RMT union has just launched a new on online learning offer to support many of its members who have been stood down, furloughed, or might be feeling isolated during the pandemic. The new learning offer comprises courses taught in many different subjects and styles, including basic skills in English, Maths, IT, health and wellbeing, bite-sized courses on ‘menopause in the workplace’ and ‘health and safety’, through to more personal interest and development subjects, such as history, criminal psychology and creative writing. The RMT has volunteer Union Learning Reps within the workforce on the Tube and they promote the programme and support learners. 

Learning Organiser Ivor Riddell said: “All the offers are accessible through online links embedded in our new publication, ‘‘The Learning Offer’, most are free and some offer nationally recognised qualifications.” 

Warburtons staff, BFAWU, Enfield

There has been a learning centre at the Warburton Bakery in Enfield for more than a decade, a venue for level 1 and levels 2 basic skills learning in literacy, numeracy, and IT. With Hovis, in Bexley, and Warburtons, in Enfield, unions organised one day briefings about ‘Mental Health Awareness’ for employees and managers in the Summer of 2019. Subsequently, four people from the Warburtons bakery in Enfield signed up to study a Mental Health Awareness course. 

Valilis Nicoluzos, Warburtons Manufacturing Manager said “The feedback I have had is that the day was a very informative and interesting and that all who attended now have a far better understanding of what Mental Health is about and how prevalent poor mental health is in our society today. Being able to see and understand the sign of mental health issues is powerful and will ensure that our managers are better prepared to spot and deal with these challenges in the right way.” 

Chris Gurdev, Aegis, Sunbury on Thames

Former Union Learning Rep Chris Gurdev has had quite some learning journey. After eight years of study Chris, with the support of Learn with Aegis, has been invited to become a Chartered Fellow in Management. Chris got an email from his union about supported learning opportunities at work and this felt like an ideal opportunity to gain some more qualifications, to upskill and to hone his talents as a leader. He then undertook and completed a NVQ Level 3 in Leadership and Management, alongside completing his functional skills level 2’s, in Maths, English and ICT. And he became a Union Learning Rep helping others access learning. Chris moved on to work as an NVQ Skills Coach/Assessor for a learning provider to businesses. In Spring 2020 Chris was invited to become a Chartered Fellow in Management. 

Julie Thompson, Project Worker for Learn with Aegis said: “As a project we are so proud of Chris and all his achievements, and obtaining his fellowship is just the icing on the cake.  As a Union Learning Rep Chris was all about supporting people, not just learners within the business he worked in, but also in his community too.”

Editors note

- About the union learning fund and Unionlearn: the Union Learning Fund helps union members and non-members alike. It is funded by the Department for Education and can only be spent on learning and associated activities, not on other trade union activity. The TUC has produced this short briefing note with all the key information on the Union Learning Fund
- New official data on employee access to training: The latest official data on employee access to training was published by the Department for Education recently (Employer Skills Survey 2019, Thursday 15 October). It shows that the proportion of employers not providing any training at all increased from 34% in 2017 to 39% in 2019; and the proportion of employees not getting any training increased from 38% in 2017 to 40% in 2019. 

- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

- TUC LESE is the TUC region responsible for London. There were 661,000 trade union members working in London in 2019. Many other workers in London work in workplaces, or enterprises, in which trade unions are recognised for negotiating purposes, or that have trained health and safety reps, or other workplace reps. More than 10 per cent of all trade unionists in the UK work in London.

 - Make UK is the voice of engineering and manufacturing in the UK. Businesses in the sector employ almost 3 million people work, produce almost half of all UK exports by value and drive over 60 percent of all UK research and development. 


TUC press office  
020 7467 1248 


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