Stella Perrett became a ULR in June 2017 and has already grabbed the role with both hands, including organising events and one-to-one discussions with colleagues about their learning aims.
Aged 58, she has plenty of experience of dealing with personal casework via various non work-related activities, but she wanted to do something different with her union role.
“[A union learning rep] is a visible role, which can encourage members (and non-members) to see how the union can be useful to their welfare and development, and generally raise their quality of life at work,” she said.
Where do you work and what’s your PCS branch?
The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) branch at Temple Quay House, in Bristol, which also contains the Highways Agency, Legal Aid Agency, Acas, CPS, and HMRC.
Why did you become a ULR?
I was recruited by PCS South West Regional Learning Organiser, Jack Davies. We met while I was organising a disability awareness event at my workplace.
What are the main duties/aims that come with being a ULR?
Publicising the union in the workplace in a visible and user-friendly way. Proactively meeting and interviewing staff to encourage their learning/training/career aspirations – in my workplace this means talking regularly to apprentices and temps.
Sending monthly statistics to PCS, attending training sessions and meetings, liaising with other ULRs, and being an active member of my local branch.
What initiatives have you and other ULRs been doing in your branch and/or workplace?
I work cross-departmentally with my ULR colleagues in HMRC.
We have organised a section of the free staff library as ‘Lifelong Learning Shelves’ and stocked it with books donated by staff and HR, and prospectuses from local colleges, OU, WEA, etc.
We held an initial ‘Lifelong Learning Lunchtime’ event in August 2017 to introduce ourselves to staff. We advertised it with posters and leaflets, provided cakes and nibbles, and used the event to hold some 1-2-1 interviews with potential learners and collected names of interested people to follow up.
This had a high profile and I was given a reward voucher by management for organising a learning event!
This collaborative working has resulted in PCS involvement in learning events as diverse as disability awareness days, and a big Holocaust Memorial Day week-long event in January this year.
Since then, a colleague on our branch committee has nominated me in the individual category for this year’s national PCS organising and communicating awards.
Have you had any PCS training for ULRs?
Yes, the stage 1 training, in 2017. It has turned me from being an ordinary union member into an activist. I would be happy to have further training.
Can having ULRs in your branch be helpful for recruitment and organising? If so, in what ways?
Yes it can. 2017 was only the second year my employer has had a tranche of new government apprentices, and only the first year the union has carried out an induction for them. As part of my role I have been able to do separate 1-2-1 ULR inductions with the apprentices, and also our temporary workers from agencies.
I produce a ‘welcome’ pack for each person, a short feedback report from our meeting, and follow up their progress.
Out of the 10 new 2017-18 apprentices, four joined PCS as a result. This is an ongoing process, and I’m still making appointments with new employees.
I also find that managers are more open to engaging with me, as the ULR, than they might be with other reps, because I can talk to all staff, whether union members or not.
I’ve been able to steer a couple of members towards considering being actual reps – an apprentice who (if he stays with the department) is willing to train as a H&S rep, and someone who might become an equalities rep for the branch.
Anything else to add about the role?
The ULR role is ideal for someone who wants to become more active in the union but without the (daunting) responsibility of doing personal casework.
Although I have actually done a lot of personal casework for over 20 years, in other roles (running community groups, local political activism), I do not want to do it at work. However, it has inspired me to volunteer for some mediation training the management is offering, and I am doing that currently.
It’s a visible role, which can encourage members (and non-members) to see how the union can be useful to their welfare and development, and generally raise their quality of life at work.