Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Courses for union workplace reps

Workplace Reps Introductory Certificate

Lee Dunning doesn’t look like he might be “terrified” of much. Ex-army, with a spell in Northern Ireland, the Marks and Spencer truck driver is burly and aggressive and as a Newcastle fan immediately challenging to the Sunderland fan writing this piece.

So when he admits to “sweating buckets and lying awake terrified the night before the first three sessions” you quickly realise just how intimidated he must have felt at the beginning of the Workplace Reps Introductory Certificate training course held for new workplace reps in Sheffield earlier this year. 

Similar courses lasting 12 days run right across Britain and Ireland, and thousands will attend this year. Having completed the course Lee Dunning has no hesitation recommending them to new stewards and those considering taking on the role saying “the fact that I had not been in a classroom setting since leaving school well over twenty years ago, and my reading and writing is not as good as it might be, has not prevented me getting a great deal from the course. What I found was that everyone pulled together, we encouraged each other and shared our concerns. With the tutor’s help there wasn’t a time when I wasn’t learning something that can be used to improve things at my workplace. I feel so encouraged I now intend becoming a Union Learning Rep.”

One of his fellow students was Bradford’s Ian Armstrong, a forklift truck driver/picker at Morrisons Supermarket for ten years. Elected in January Ian didn’t know Unite ran courses to help train new stewards but “despite some anxieties about my spelling I welcomed the chance to get some training to become a better steward. It’s been a challenging 12 weeks but one I’ve really enjoyed. The union’s regional office that hosted the course is a bright and relaxing place.

I have learnt how to undertake disciplinary and grievance hearings, use various procedures and employment law. Around 80% of the 1,800 people employed at the distribution centre where I work are in either Unite or USDAW, but I’ve done a mapping exercise to try and identify those that remain unorganised. I’ve also helped to get re-started the newsletter in order to keep members informed. Additionally I’ve learnt to understand that picking small issues that are winnable can be important.”

At the moment these are probably all Liz Hammond can hope to win, as with less than a quarter of her colleagues at the Sheffield call-centre of Insurance company Aviva in Unite that means there is no collective bargaining agreement in place. Liz doesn’t believe people aren’t interested, saying “it’s because most are under 30 and know very little about trade unions as nothing is said about them when you are at school. For me the course has been a great help when its focused on helping the individual, because at this stage it will be by winning such cases at work that we can hope to increase interest in the union. At the same time I’ve also started up a paper newsletter for everyone, alongside a regular e-bulletin to those that have joined the union.”

The Workplace Reps Introductory Certificate lasts 12 days and is held at all regional/country training centres. Successful completion earns a Unite certificate of attendance followed by a certificate of achievement of 24 credits at NVQ level 2 from NOCN.

The Certificate has 4 modules each lasting 3 days based on Unite’s three central pillars of organising, global solidarity and politics.

Module 1 - Organising
Module 2 - Roles and responsibilities of being a shop steward
Module 3 - Negotiating
Module 4 - Political and International 

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