Employers attack ambiguous plan for union learning reps

The Government has come under fire after allocating £20m to promote union
learning representatives (ULRs) without providing employers with clear guidance
on what the role entails.

Announcing the funding last week treasury minister John Healey said ULRs, which
will be given statutory powers to promote learning in the workplace later this
year, would be vital in developing skills.

But employers are concerned the Department for Trade and Industry’s
proposals on ULRs, due to be brought in under the Employment Act, lack detail
and could lead to clashes with company training departments.

Robbie Gilbert, chief executive of the Employers Forum on Statute and
Practice, said it was not clear how the ULRs would fit alongside employers’ own
training activities. "The legislation doesn’t tell you much about whether
they could commission training or require staff to attend it," he said.
"We need more clarity because employers are puzzled about the role of
these reps and how many you would have within an organisation."

The CBI’s senior policy adviser on its learning and skills group, Anne
Lindsay, agreed more detail was needed in the Acas code that outlines the remit
of ULRs. She said: "Further guidance is vital if this is to lead to more
productive workplaces."

The CIPD’s assistant general secretary Duncan Brown stressed that it was
important that guidance was available to ensure ULRs did not duplicate or clash
with existing training and development strategies.

Eleanor Shingleton-Smith, head of personnel and training for Frimley Park
Hospital NHS Trust, said it was unclear how much influence ULRs would have and
how they would affect managers and trainers.

"It would be helpful to have some guidance to clarify this," she
said.

The DTI is considering changes to the Acas ULR code.

By Ross Wigham

Need to know

– (ULRs) will gain statutory rights under the Employment Act as
early as April

– ULRs will have the right to paid time off

– The TUC plans to develop 22,000 ULRs by 2010

– The Union Learning Fund was set up by the Government in 1998

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