Model learning agreement

  1. Joint statement on learning
  2. Responsibilities
  3. Scope of the agreement
  4. Consultation and negotiation on learning
  5. Role of union learning representatives (ULRs)
  6. Facilities for learning representatives
  7. Access to learning for employees
  8. Fair and appropriate access

1. Joint statement on learning

The importance of learning in the civil and public services

The employer and Council of Civil Service Unions (CCSU) welcome the commitment Government made in the Skills Strategy White Papers - 21st Century Skills (published in July 2003) and Skills: Getting on in business, getting on at work (published in March 2005), to investing in the skills development of individuals across the nation and among its own employees.

They acknowledge the work Government departments are undertaking to produce skills strategies to demonstrate commitment to the Skills Strategy and to develop and implement the Professional Skills for Government initiative that will enable staff in all areas of the Civil Service to develop the skills and experience needed to design and deliver 21st century services.

They also recognise the key role that Government Skills, the Sector Skills Council for Central Government, can play in supporting and implementing Professional Skills for Government and skills developments across the Service.

The importance of investing in skills and, in particular, ensuring that employees basic skills needs are met, is also a major part of the Investor’s in People revised standard.

This Learning Agreement sets out how the employer and trade unions will work together to ensure that employees have the skills they need for their current role and for the future.

The agreement recognises that all employees should have access to the services of a Union Learning Representative (ULR).

The Government Skills Strategy White Papers recognise the contribution union learning representatives (ULRs) can make towards increasing engagement in learning and developing a workplace learning culture.

This agreement recognises the important role that ULRs can play in helping departments and agencies meet their objectives to produce Skills Strategies (previously called Skills Development Plans) and take forward Professional Skills for Government and continue recognition of the IiP standard.

The employer and CCSU will cooperate in implementing government policy on lifelong learning and learning representatives and recognise that ULRs are essential in fulfilling this policy.

Application in the UK

This model learning agreement has been drawn up by the Council of Civil Service Unions and the Cabinet Office for use in UK government departments and agencies.

It offers a model that may be used with the agreement of both parties. The model is intended as a framework to help employers draw up their own specific agreements with their trade unions.

Elements of the model may of course be tailored. The terminology and some of the initiatives mentioned in the model agreement reflect this.

Sections of the text draw on the ACAS Code of Practice 3: Time off for trade union duties and activities including guidance on time off for union learning representatives (see sections 3, 5 and 6) other sections (such as the reference to Branch and Regional Learning Coordinators in section 6) refer to good practice rather than legal requirements.

The terminology of the model agreement will need to be adapted for application within those UK government departments and agencies that operate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to reflect their devolved policies and approaches to learning and education.

The principles and structures in the model agreement could also be applied to devolved areas of government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The importance of learning to the employer, the union and the individual

The employer and trade unions recognise the benefits for the employer, the individual and the union that comes from lifelong learning.

The employer and trade unions are committed to working together to promote and support lifelong learning and to ensure fair and equal access to learning opportunities inside and outside the workplace.

Both parties will encourage staff to take up learning activities and share responsibility for developing and maintaining a learning culture within the organisation.

Both parties will work to build upon departmental and governmental learning initiatives.

The employer recognises that ULRs are essential to developing the learning culture in the workplace.

2. Responsibilities

Joint responsibilities

Under this agreement the employer and trade unions will work together to encourage and support learning, especially lifelong learning - learning that is not necessarily related to business goals and learning for personal fulfillment and in retirement.

This joint working will be put into effect largely through the union developing a network of Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) and through the arrangements made for consultation and agreement on learning (see section 4 below).

Effective working relationships with the employer’s human resource and training and development teams will be essential to ensure that joint working arrangements are successful and there is no unnecessary duplication of responsibilities.

It is essential that there is clarity about the role of the union learning representative and to ensure that it is complementary to the role of the training and development function.

The employer’s responsibilities

The employer is responsible for training and learning in support of the organisation’s business delivery objectives.

The need and support for such training and learning will be identified through the Performance Management process in part, as well as through skills audits, departmental Skills Strategies and PSG frameworks etc.

The employer recognises its responsibility to encourage and support lifelong learning that will in the long term benefit the organisation as well as the individual.

Managers and supervisors have a key responsibility for the training and development of the staff reporting to them. The employer will ensure that managers and supervisors are made aware of these responsibilities, the role of the learning representative and of the provisions of this learning Agreement.

Union responsibilities

The unions will develop and support a network of ULRs, co-ordinated at branch and group level. The union will fulfill its legal requirements on the appointment and training of ULRs (see below) and ensure that these representatives are fully supported.

The unions will seek to make sure that the work of ULRs will be complementary to the work of the employer’s training and development team and will seek to avoid any duplication or confusion of roles.

The trade unions have a particular interest in the lifelong learning agenda and the longer-term personal development of staff.

3. Scope of the agreement


This agreement covers all employees of the organisation.
Relationship to Employment Act 2002 and ACAS Code of Practice.

Nothing in this agreement shall take away or detract from the rights of ULRs under the Employment Act 2002 and the ACAS Code of Practice 3: Time off for trade union duties and activities including guidance on time off for union learning representatives.

Nor does this agreement prevent the union from seeking remedy through Employment Tribunal applications where it is believed that the employer is in breach of the Code of Practice.

Relationship to existing agreements and procedures

The employer undertakes to ensure that this agreement will not be used as an alternative to collective bargaining with the unions and agrees to maintain and use existing negotiating procedures and arrangements other than those specified in this agreement.

The employer and trade union agree that any learning needs analysis carried out by ULRs with individual members of staff are intended for learning, educational and developmental purposes.

The analysis will not be used in any detrimental way in relation to other issues such as pay, performance appraisal, redundancy, disciplinary procedures etc.

Union structures on learning

The employer recognises the necessity for the unions to have an effective structure to support employees’ learning.

The employer therefore recognises not only the role of ULRs, but also the importance of the role of branch and group learning co-ordinators or champions, who will take lead responsibility on learning within the branch and group.

Changes to the agreement

Any changes to this agreement that are deemed necessary may be made through the normal joint consultative arrangements that exist between the employer and union.

A minimum of three months notice will be given for proposed changes to this agreement, unless both parties agree to a lesser notice period.

4. Consultation and negotiation on learning

The union and employer will agree clear arrangements for consultation and negotiation on learning.

This may involve using existing machinery such as Whitley Committees or it may involve the creation of a Joint Learning Committee or Forum where unions and employer can discuss learning issues of common concern – for example the planning and promotion of activities for “Learning at Work Day” or access to training courses.

These forums may be an opportunity to involve other partners such as local learning providers or TUC Learning Services.

The employer and union will agree a method of evaluating respective learning activities.

In addition there may be a need for local steering groups or joint committees to deal with particular projects, for instance implementing skills for life or the professional skills for government programme.

5. Role of union learning representatives (ULRs)

The employer recognises the value of ULRs in encouraging and supporting learning and in creating a learning culture within the organisation.

Functions of a union learning representative

The employer recognises and supports the role and functions of ULRs as set out in the ACAS Code of Practice:

  • analysing learning or training needs
  • providing information or advice about learning or training matters
  • arranging learning or training
  • promoting the value of learning or training
  • consulting the employer about carrying out such activities
  • preparation to carry out any of the above activities
  • undergoing relevant training.

In addition ULRs will be required to provide information and statistics to the union on a regular basis for the purpose of collating and identifying centrally learning needs and key themes and trends of ULR work and future ULR development needs.

They will also need to work effectively with the employer’s human resource and training teams as outlined in section 2 of the agreement.
It is recognised that roles and responsibilities will vary, but will include one or more of these functions.

From time to time, ULRs may need to carry out other functions; in such cases this will be a matter for discussion between management and union.

6. Facilities for learning representatives

Time off with pay for union learning representatives

The employer will give reasonable time off with pay to ULRs to perform their role and functions, provided that the union has given the employer notice in writing that the employee is a ULR and that the training condition (see below) will be met.

Any such time off is additional to any arrangements for time off with pay for other union duties or other union positions held. There is no statutory limitation on time spent by ULRs.

If an employer refuses to grant reasonable time off to a ULR, individual ULRs may wish to seek recourse to an Employment Tribunal. In order to avoid the necessity for such action, the employer and union will agree an arrangement for time off for ULRs.

This arrangement will recognise the following principles:

All employees should have access to the services of a ULR. ULRs should be workplace or site based, with due regard to staff numbers, staff location and working patterns. The number and location of ULRs should be based on maximizing accessibility and avoiding the need for staff and/or ULRs to be involved in significant amounts of travel. Precise numbers will reflect the size, location and working arrangements of the employing body and the unions’ organizational requirements.

ULRs work at different levels – local learning reps, branch learning coordinators/champions and group learning coordinators. The time off they require will reflect their responsibility and the volume of work.

There may be a minimum requirement for ULRs to carry out their regular duties – such as signposting and administrative work.

ULRs will require time over and above this for specific projects, activities or events. This will vary from ULR to ULR and will vary over time - eg ‘Learning at Work’ events, IiP initiatives etc.

Management of time off for union learning representatives

ULRs will seek to give management as much notice as possible of intended time off on learning activities. To facilitate this ULRs should consider planning regular activities.

Other facilities

The employer will provide ULRs with the necessary accommodation and equipment/facilities to perform their duties. This will include:

  • access to a telephone, desk and PC
  • access to internal and external e-mail
  • access to the employer’s intranet and the internet
  • secure filing facilities
  • use of a noticeboard
  • access to a private room for discussions with staff
  • access to such other facilities as may be available to assist the work.

Number of union learning representatives

The number of ULRs will reflect the principle that every member of staff should have access to the services of a ULR. Appointment of ULRs should be made with due regard to organisational needs and employee numbers.

Therefore larger offices or sites, or staff on various working patterns, may require more ULRs.

Training of union learning representatives

The union will ensure that ULRs are sufficiently trained to qualify for time off in line with the requirements of the Employment Act 2002 and ACAS Code of Practice.

The five-day TUC learning representative course, or the equivalent accredited courses delivered by the various CCSU unions, will be regarded as the appropriate initial training.

ULRs will be granted reasonable time off with pay to undertake the initial training and relevant follow-on training in relation to specific aspects of their role (as confirmed in the ACAS Code of Practice).

The need for training will vary with the responsibilities, activities and projects of each ULR, the learning needs of the staff, and the circumstances of the workplace. Additional training may cover, for example, skills for life, continuing professional development, disability awareness or supporting learndirect centres.

Group regional and branch learning co-ordinators

Support will be given to the development of a network of union learning co-ordinators – at branch and group level, as appropriate. [In some branches these may be known as learning champions.]

In larger departments and agencies there will be need for coordination at a regional level.

These posts will co-ordinate the work of ULRs, support them in their role, deal with personal cases related to learning, and liaise with and negotiate with the employer on learning.

They will also ensure that the work of the ULRs fits in with the wider work of the union.

These positions, while not referred to in the ACAS Code of Practice have a key role in ensuring that the work of the ULRs links with the training and development function of the employer, in the collation and feedback of information to the employer, and ensuring that union structures can operate effectively in supporting the work of ULRs.

All branch learning co-ordinators will sit on their appropriate union executive committee (eg branch executive committee) to ensure that learning activity is closely linked to the work of the union.

These co-ordinators will require paid time off for training and to fulfill these duties.

Where these co-ordinators hold the role of ULR they will in addition require time off with pay for these duties in accordance with previous paragraphs.

The total amount of time off with pay may be subject to negotiation and in any case should reflect the importance of their role both for the trade union and the employer and the volume of work that they undertake.

7. Access to learning for employees

Commitment to lifelong learning

The employer and the union agree to encourage and support staff to participate in learning, whether provided by the employer, the union, local providers, or via the Internet or CD Rom.

Time off for employees to have access to learning representatives

All employees will be allowed reasonable time off during working hours to meet with ULRs.

This will include time for undertaking a learning needs analysis as well as subsequent meetings for information and advice on learning. This is in addition to any time off with pay granted to staff to undergo training and learning opportunities.

Time off and other support for job related training

The employer will provide time off and other support for agreed job related training. Staff should use the existing process/forum to identify and apply for support for such learning. ULRs may also help staff identify such learning needs.

Lifelong Learning

Employers will also provide support for lifelong learning that benefits both the individual and the organisation by providing reasonable facilities, and time off with pay. ULRs have a key role in helping members identify these learning needs.

Promotional events

Staff will be encouraged, and be given paid time off, subject to prior agreement, to attend agreed events promoting learning such as ‘learning at work day’ events, LSC and TUC events and taster learning sessions.

This is in addition to any time off with pay granted to staff to undergo training and learning opportunities.

Learning opportunities

Staff will be encouraged to participate in learning activities - not just training courses.

Particular support will be given to ULRs to:

  • arrange on-site learning sessions with local colleges
  • set up on-site learning centres (including, where appropriate, access to learndirect through the trade union hub)
  • arrange on-site skills for life screening and assessment and, where appropriate, on-site learning opportunities.

The employer will, allocate and fund appropriate resources (venues, access to computers and the internet etc) to support these agreed activities.

Learning priorities

Unions may, from time to time, agree with the employer to give particular emphasis to the following areas of learning and to provide support for staff in these areas.

The following is a suggested list of priorities drawing on existing provision and agreements. The list is not exclusive and not all will necessarily be relevant to all departments or agencies or specific occupational areas.

Literacy, numeracy, ICT user skills, professional skills and IiP

(i) Skills for life.

The employer recognises the valuable role trade unions can play in encouraging staff to undergo skills for life screening and take up skills for life learning opportunities. The employer will support the union in arranging skills for life screening and assessment sessions for staff in a friendly and confidential environment.

Staff will be given encouragement and time off with pay to undergo this screening and assessment. Staff will also be given time off with pay to undertake learning to meet any skills for life needs identified. Should members of staff not wish to bring skills for life needs to the attention of their manager, the ULR can refer them to outside bodies such as a local college.

(ii) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) User Skills

The employer and trade unions recognise the need to raise the level of ICT user skills in the organisation – for the immediate and longer term needs of the organisation and for the personal development of the employees.

The employer and unions should work together to provide access to ICT learning leading to recognised qualifications – for example, through the development of on-site learning centres and learndirect, and through arrangements with local colleges for on-site training sessions. Staff will be encouraged and should be given paid time off to undertake ICT user training and obtain qualifications.

(iii) Professional Skills for Government Programme

The employer and trade unions recognise that if the Civil Service is to succeed in delivering effective services, it needs to ensure that civil servants wherever they work, and whatever their discipline, function or grade, have the right mix of skills and expertise to enable Departments or agencies to fulfil this role.

Professional Skills for Government Programme (PSG) is the major long term change programme designed to achieve this.

The PSG framework provides clarity about the core skills individuals need to develop and progress in the civil service. It will provide professional recognition for the skills and experiences of staff formerly thought of as “generalists” and “specialists”.

The PSG programme will result in training and development that is better tailored to the individual needs of staff and will help staff develop more transferable skills.

The employer and unions will work together to ensure that the Professional Skills for Government programme takes an integrated approach, is accessible and transparent for staff of all grades and disciplines, gives more consistent opportunities to develop the core skills identified, and provides support for staff to progress within the civil service including access to the Senior Civil Service.

8. Fair and appropriate access

The employer and unions will ensure that training and development is provided to all employees.

The employer will work to tackle barriers and ensure that all staff can access learning which meets their needs and the needs of the organisation. The employer will work with the unions to help identify and address barriers to fair access to learning including accessible learning materials and flexible methods of delivery.

Although participation in learning by employees will be on a voluntary basis, the unions and employers will encourage staff to fully participate in all learning initiatives and opportunities.

28 February 2006

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