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Refugee Learning Project


March 2005
UNISON nationally alongside other unions has been working for a number of years to improve the lives of migrant workers. Currently as part of UNISON Scotland's opposing Racism Action Plan, we are asking branches and activists to support a new integration project being undertaken with 16 Refugees in the Glasgow area. This pilot project is funded by the Home Office and aims to co-ordinate a specialised route to work experience and employment in health, social care and other associated fields while introducing/involving refugee participants in the activities of the union.


Refugee participants will be provided with a personal development plan, training and work placements that will include mentoring and support from trained UNISON life long learning advisors. The placements are expected to operate over a ten to twelve week period with travel and childcare costs funded to enable the widest possible participation.

Free Membership

UNISON will initially offer one year's free membership to all participants and this will be extended where they are successful in securing further work as UNISON members within Scotland's public services. It is hoped that the participants in the refugee learning project will finish the placements with improved confidence, new learning and enhanced skills. Participants can go on to utilise these as a springboard for job applications with the placement employer or other employment. They will also have the opportunity through their experiences to develop their awareness of active citizenship and their scope for further participation in the democratic structures of work, union and the wider community. The project aims are also supportive of the Scottish Executive's 'Fresh Talent Scheme' and 'One Scotland many Cultures' initiative. The First Minister has championed the Fresh Talent Scheme as the answer to Scotland's declining population and he intends to attract 8,000 new workers to Scotland to help fill the population gap. While the 'One Scotland many Cultures' initiative celebrates the cultural diversity of Scotland and challenges racist attitudes and behaviour which have a negative impact on individuals and society.

Barriers facing migrant workers

Historically jobs carried out by migrant workers have been low paid and do not utilise their skills, despite many possessing qualifications. Pre employment schemes have identified that this is due to numerous hurdles, including language and communication skills, lack of appropriate information and training, cultural barriers and financial difficulties. However the vital role of learning and training has been recognised by UNISON, as an integral part of the overall work needed to enable refugees to break down these barriers. TUC research in this area has also found that mentoring in work based placements plays an important part in the process.


Unison Scotland has given its backing to the mentoring approach - it recognises that one to one support from more experienced workers who are on site in the workplace is an effective way of assisting refugees. Mentoring is also a rewarding experience, which will give activists the chance to provide support through encouragement, constructive comments, openness, mutual trust, respect and a willingness to learn and share. It's also a wonderful opportunity for mentors to learn about another culture with its own fascinating customs, history, and values.

Impact of learning initiatives for Unison

UNISON has found that promoting this type of learning and training at work is increasing its membership and also their standing in the workplace. A TUC report released in November 2004 also backs this it found that 59%of learning reps contacted said that "learning had had a positive impact on union membership" at their workplace. While 69% said the perception of the union had been enhanced and 74% said union-employer/employee relations had improved.

Benefits for Employers

Employers who become stakeholders in this project by offering placements may want to consider that

  • They will be meeting requirements under the Race Relations Amendments Act (2002) to promote equality of opportunity and good relation between persons of different racial groups, within the workplace.
  • They will be enhancing their public image/profile re inclusion, active citizenship and positive approaches to developing best practice and procedures.
  • They will have trained staff members who can offer further assistance in the integration of new workers from refugee backgrounds.

Action for Branches

Many refugees come to Britain from countries and cultures that are very different and often they have few friends or family who live here. Therefore they may feel little apprehensive and need someone who knows the local work culture to help them settle into and adjust to their placement. Previously refugees who have had this kind of support have attained self- sufficiency more quickly than those without mentors.

If your branch has union learning reps who are interested in becoming mentors and would like to get involved they can contact the project co-ordinator Elaine Rae at Unison House, 14 West Campbell St, Glasgow, G2 6RX or on 0845 355 08458, or email at e.rae@unison.co.uk. Alternatively if there are members or activists within your branch who would consider undertaking the training to become a mentor, it may be an ideal time to get them involved, as under the Employment Act 2002 they are entitled to paid time off for training.


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