Nigel Cawley, 48, has been a PCS member since joining HMRC in 2005 and became a ULR in 2011. His own experience of returning to education later in life remains an important influence as he carries out his current union role of branch learning coordinator.
The high profile of learning reps is great for recruitment too, he says, because it “attracts contact from non-members and gives us an opportunity to show them the value of PCS membership”.
Where do you work and what’s your PCS branch?
HMRC, Salford Revenue branch, based in Trinity Bridge House, Salford. I am also the branch organiser and assist colleagues with representing members.
Why did you become a ULR?
My background mirrors a lot of other people’s, in that I wasn’t particularly attentive in school and didn’t attain good qualifications – my relationship with formal education suffered because of that. However as got older I began to realise, through a widening interest in the world around me, that my lack of education was impacting on me.
In my late 20s I enrolled on an access course at the old MANCAT college in Manchester and went on to gain a degree in politics & history at Salford University. I realised how important education was, not just formal qualifications but that any learning is good in and of itself.
I was unaware of the ULR role when I first joined PCS but following a discussion with a ULR on site, I was encouraged to stand.
What are the main duties/aims that come with being a ULR?
The main duties are essentially to promote learning. To signpost colleagues to learning opportunities in the local area and to assist colleagues in gaining the skills they need to have a chance to survive in an ever-changing working environment.
What initiatives have you and other ULRs been doing in your branch and/or workplace?
Our branch is lucky as we inherited a fully-fledged learning culture left behind by former reps Pete Grubb and Mike Bennett. We have a learning centre on site which holds a library and a computer suite where staff can come along and avail themselves of the facilities, and it’s seen as an oasis in a busy office.
We currently have 11 ULRs and have regular learning events including bi-monthly drop-in sessions where staff can come in for advice and guidance. We hold regular book recycles, where staff can pick up free books. For me, the best bit of this is that staff can expand their reading – they can take a book from a different genre and see if they enjoy it. We then replenish the books by encouraging staff to bring in books they have finished with.
We have a regular creative writing session, with the seasons as the topic, which has proved to be popular. We also provide guided tours with local museums and galleries which, again, are very popular. And we hold our annual Learning at Work Day, and health and wellbeing events.
Our branch was one of the first to trial the mid-career reviews. The review aided staff in focusing on existing and transferable skills, and helped people focus on their competencies when applying for other jobs and promotions.
Additionally we hold regular collections for the local food bank. Through this initiative we have been able to discuss with members and other colleagues the issues and reasons which lead people to use food banks.
Have you had any PCS training for ULRs?
Yes all our ULRs are trained and valued the PCS training as it was more focused than a broader TUC course. It is a good grounding in the status of ULRs re statutory rights and the purpose of ULRs in the workplace.
Can having ULRs in your branch be helpful for recruitment and organising? If so, in what ways?
Yes it can. ULRs in our branch are the most visible part of the union. Along with the events outlined above we are regularly in our foyer promoting equality days and TUC Heart Unions week, for example. We highlight the work of ULRs and what we have to offer, but we recognise the wider union roles. I have the branch casework co-ordinator role, as have other ULRs, and we have ULRs who are H&S reps or have BEC roles too. So when we’re approached on our stalls we can often assist members with other issues. Also our high profile attracts contact from non-members and this gives us an opportunity to show them the value of PCS membership and what help and support would be available.