Learning initiatives ideal for union organising

Encouraging members and non-members to take up the chance to learn with the help of PCS is a positive and effective way to boost recruitment and involvement with the union.

Reps are reminded to make full use of the resources and support on offer to branches, as a way of boosting their organising plans.

Holding free learning events and organising courses are ideal ways to:

  • raise the profile of PCS in your workplace;
  • gain access to and recruit non-members;
  • increase participation of under-represented members;
  • and support members in developing their skills and confidence.

The ‘learning’ umbrella covers a multitude of possibilities – it can range from sessions coaching people on their health and wellbeing using elements of yoga or mindfulness, to arranging lessons on a new piece of technology, to professional development courses, to learning creative writing or going on cultural outings, or tuition on core skills like English and maths.

In the case of PCS’s Union Learning Fund (ULF) England project this vital part of our work is carried out via 500+ Union Learning Reps (ULRs), with support from branch reps and PCS learning organisers. It’s paid for by ULF England – money that is ear-marked by the government for adult education in the workplace. There are separate funds and structures for England, Scotland and Wales.

The governments recognise that trade unions can access ‘hard to reach’ learners in the workplace. The priority areas for the ULF in England are English, maths, ICT, supporting apprentices, tackling inequality, and English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL).  PCS also has a remit for Continuing Professional Development, and non-vocational learning (IACL).

For example, with many members – and potential members – in cleaning, catering, security and other parts of the facilities management sector, PCS has been highlighting the potential to organise ESOL classes for outsourced workers, where wages are low, job security is poor and there is little or no investment in learning and skills.

ULRs have access to more non-members than any other group of PCS reps. According to recent TUC-commissioned research, a high proportion of non-members who engage in union learning go on to join that union.

When learning leads to negotiations
One PCS nominee for this year’s UnionLearn ULR awards, Home Office GEC Apprenticeship Lead Neil Masters, managed to negotiate a significantly improved position for apprentices in the department as a direct result of his work on learning.

By setting up a group-wide network of ULRs and reps who were dealing with apprentices, he was able to gather information and data on exploitative elements of the Home Office scheme that were presented to the employer, leading to a commitment to resolve the issues and to hold meaningful talks in future.

Support available
• PCS ran a Regional Learning events fund earlier this year, offering branches up to £200 to run a learning event in a workplace, aimed at branches where little or no learning takes place. This money can pay for refreshments and lunch, room hire and travel and subsistence, as well as for facilitators or speakers to deliver workshops. As a result, 48 extra learning events took place in February and March, attracting hundreds of staff. PCS will launch a new fund for events running in the autumn.

• PCS offers a 3-day training course for all new ULRs so they are well prepared for all aspects of the role.  It focuses on what is expected, how they can compliment branch organising objectives, skills in negotiating with management, and what their statutory rights are.

Recent examples of initiatives set up by PCS ULRs include:

  • Face-to-face IT training for HMRC staff in Yorkshire and Humber who had been issued with Surface Pro tablets with little training on how to use them. Leeds branch rep Claire Thorpe arranged the training to help upskill her colleagues.
  • A learning event at MOJ Birmingham, organised by ULR Zahara Mohammed, that included workshops on Laughter Yoga (now renamed Reducing Stress Through Laughter), CV writing, nutrition, and personal finance and budgeting.
  • A family picnic day planned by ULRs working with the BEC at the MoD Abbey Wood site. Members and their family can come along, enjoy the sunshine and take part in informal learning throughout the day.



PCS Learning: pcs.org.uk/learning-with-pcs-sessions-and-workshops

Union Learning Reps (ULRs): pcs.org.uk/resources/learning-with-pcs/union-learning-reps

Union Learning Fund: unionlearn.org.uk/union-learning-fund

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