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

The TUC in the South East of England and Make UK, the voice of engineering and manufacturing, have joined forces today (Monday) to call on the government to reverse its decision 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 the South East generates £22.5bn of output per annum, providing 300,000 jobs, paying on average 24% higher wages than other sectors in the South East economy.

Make UK’s South Regional Director Jim Davison said:

“These are incredibly challenging times for manufacturers and their employees in the South East. 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 the South East of England Sam Gurney said:

“Union learning, led by union reps and organised with employers, has made an enormous contribution to workers’ skills and businesses in South East. It has helped every sector of our economy, each year for more than 20 years.

“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 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

Lee Perkins, Prospect, Sevenoaks

Lee Perkins, a Prospect union health and safety rep at UK Power Networks, won a national ‘health and safety champion’ award for his safety training work with apprentices. Lee’s work mentoring young workers in the energy sector demonstrates how union reps are ideally placed to offer support and training to young workers. Whether at the UK Power Networks’ Kent training centre or on site in muddy fields, Lee promotes the paramount importance of safety to industry newcomers, usually supervising a dozen apprentices at a time, ranging in age from 17 to 42. 

Lee said: “This is just who I am and what I do, and if it helps others I am chuffed. I am passionate about helping young people to thrive in this industry because they are the future and I want my work to bring on the next generation.” 

DHL workers, Usdaw, Dartford

DHL has a Sainsburys 24/7 distribution centre in Dartford. UDSAW is one of the unions that organise in the workplace. 85% of the workforce there have English as a second language. With support from the employer, USDAW organised the opportunity for staff to take voluntary literacy assessments on site, and 69 did. The assessments revealed there was a demand and need for ESOL classes and that workers were concerned that they might not understand the essential health and safety guidance they were given by their employer. Weekly ESOL classes were provided in the workplace with the support of the employer, using health and safety materials and DHL policies as learning materials. 
DHL Operations Manager Jason Pickering said “This was a tremendous success, people have improved their skills, are more productive and we have improved people’s safety. We should think about getting a learning centre on site." 

Usdaw mobile learning centre – across the South East

With many people not having access to IT equipment, or a workplace learning centre, USDAW’s Mobile Learning Centre is proving to be a vital resource to allow workers to develop digital skills. The mobile learning centre visits Tesco stores across the South East. USDAW Project Worker Lawrence Miller said: “It’s grown in popularity, especially in austerity hit areas where people cannot afford a lap-top, tablet or even sometimes a mobile phone”. The Mobile Learning Centre is used to run digital skills courses. Tesco allows learners paid time off to attend courses. 

Paul Hutley, a Tesco HR Manager, said “This is a fabulous opportunity for our colleagues to upskill themselves and a huge benefit to Tesco as an employer.”

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 the South East of England. We define as Kent, East and West Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey. There are 711,000 trade union members in the South East of England. Many other workers in the South East 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. 12 per cent of all trade unionists in the UK work in the South East of England.

 - 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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