Government to set up trade union academy

The Government is to create and fund a Trade Union Academy to train union
representatives to university level to give them the edge in negotiations with
businesses.

TUC president Roger Lyons told Personnel Today the move would be announced
at the TUC Congress in September and would be funded by the unions and the
Department for Education and Skills under the controversial union modernisation
funding scheme.

"A university level academy for trade unions is a big challenge to the
world of industrial relations," he said. "We will be more informed,
more professional and more able to cope with the new pressures. I’m not certain
if employers put up the kind of people who can handle that."

Lyons said the courses would be
linked to national qualifications and to universities for validation, and
funding would be dependent on take-up.

"Although they won’t be giving MBAs out, the
union reps will be more able to handle the kind of people with MBAs that the global companies throw into
discussions," he said.

Earlier this year the Government announced it would earmark £10m in funds to
modernise trade unions under the Employment Relations Bill, currently being
assessed by Parliament.

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said that the move was
welcome as long as it was used to give union representatives a better
understanding of business and was not about who has the edge in negotiations.

"It’s about attitude," he said. "They need to think in terms
of positive outcomes rather than maintaining adversarial relations."

Alison Hodgson, UK
and Ireland resourcing manager at catering firm Sodexho,
also welcomed the move. She said the extra learning was a brilliant idea that
"would encourage employee engagement and motivation, rather than just make
them better fighters".

However, the Confederation of British Industry has questioned whether
employers would have to pay for the time spent out of the workplace and asked
how employers would be expected to accommodate trade union representatives
undergoing training.

By Michael Millar

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