Experienced Unite reps in Manchester have given Unite Education courses a ‘thumbs up’ for helping them develop skills to win improvements in working conditions for their members.
Hundreds of free training courses for reps are organised across the UK and Ireland and in 2012 a total attendance of 12,000 students raised the total teaching days to 54,000 days. This was a significant achievement so soon after the merger of two unions into one.
Underpinning all courses is a three-pillar strategy of organising, international solidarity and politics. A greater political understanding of a fast altering inter-locked world where working people are increasingly being denied a decent income, good working conditions and democratic rights strengthens skills development.
Manchester City Council mechanical road sweeper Graham White became a safety rep after he was badly injured at work due to the combination of a workmates mistake and a badly designed garage depot. The latter has been significantly improved due to Graham’s efforts.
He does not want others to suffer his fate and says, “anyone considering becoming a rep at their workplace should know they can access relevant training to assist them fulfil an important role. I have learnt negotiating skills, how to gather and file information and where to access the Law to back up any issues I take to management on behalf of members”.
According to Stagecoach bus driver Mike Woods, who is an elected workplace and safety rep, the benefits of a Unite course include “meeting reps from other workplaces, giving a greater understanding of the wider union movement and from whom you get invaluable ideas to take up at your own workplace”. Mike also praised the Unite Education department for its back up services that include ongoing support in helping him locate information for workplace negotiations on both safety and employment matters.
“The courses help build self-esteem and place you on an equal footing with management in negotiations,” said Sharon Chawner, a Unite workplace and safety rep at the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Union representatives have a statutory right to reasonable paid time off from work to undertake trade union training.
Most courses are for workplace and safety reps but there are also courses for branch officials, equality and union learning reps as well as weekend schools and ones on pensions and dealing with redundancy. For more information see:- www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/education/