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Education and Trade Unions at Work

The UNISON Scotland Response
To the Review of Education for Work and Enterprise
Scottish Executive Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department

Executive Summary

  • UNISON believes it is important to prepare young people for the actual
  • world of work.
  • One major aspect of the world of work is the role played by trade unions
  • Many private companies and most of the public sector recognises trade unions
  • Modern trade unions offer a wide range of services to their members
  • They also participate in partnership arrangements with employers in the interests of good industrial relations.
  • UNISON considers the role of trade unions could be introduced into the Scottish school curriculum as part of Personal and Social Education lessons, industry training courses, etc.
  • Education on the role of trade unions is a relevant factor in learning about the world of work
  • Students with such knowledge could assist enterprises with industrial relations.
  • The TUC Educational Resource for Work Experience and Careers Education would provide an excellent basis for such studies.


UNISON has an interest in various aspects of education and enterprise, through its members employment in the relevant services. Howeverour response to the Review of Education for Work and Enterprise is based on the benefits of introducing trade unionism and the services that trade unions provide into the education of young people.General Response UNISON believes it is important that young people are prepared for the world of work and one major aspect is an appreciation of the role trade unions play in enterprises. Most large companies and the majority of the public and voluntary sector recognise trade unions and acknowledge the role they play in the smooth operation of the relevant organisation.Trade unions today offer a wide range of services to their members. These include:

    • negotiating better wages and conditions in the workplace;
    • participating in partnership arrangements;
    • representing individual members if they have a problem
    • offering information and advice on employment law and rights in the workplace;
    • providing a network of health and safety representatives;
    • promoting equal opportunities and providing support and advice on the relevant legislation;
    • encouraging involvement in work/life balance arrangements
    • fighting for equal pay, and participating in campaigns, such as the Executive's "Close the Gap" initiative
    • offering education and training opportunities
    • joining with employers and learning institutions to implement the

Government's lifelong learning programme which will eventually include the provision of a network of lifelong learning advisers currently being developed by trade unions.

Trade unions also offer a number of other benefits to their members, e.g. welfare benefits, legal assistance, financial services and discounts, travel clubs, etc. UNISON, in conjunction with the National Union of Students, runs a website called: www.troubleatwork.org.uk. The site is aimed at young people and students and contains information and advice on various topics relating to the workplace. The latest figures show that 10,000 people accessed the site in November 2001, asking questions on such issues as hours at work, rest breaks, accidents in the workplace, etc. The high uptake on the site highlights the lack of knowledge of this information amongst young people, and points to the need for including it in the Scottish curriculum.

Response to Specific Questions

  1. Encouraging Good Practice

UNISON considers that this aspect of the world of work could be introduced into the school curriculum, possibly through wider "citizenship" lessons. The TUC produces an Educational Resource for Work Experience and Careers Education which provides various activities designed to look at the role of employees within the context of being good citizens with a sense of social responsibility. This has recently been rewritten to take into account the introduction of citizenship studies into the school curriculum in England and Wales, but would only require slight adaptations for use in Scotland.

The resource material comprises sections on:

  • Trade Unions at work, showing what trade unions can do for their members in the workplace;
  • rights and responsibilities at work which includes a basic introduction to employment law, e.g. the working time regulations, parental responsibilities, specific rights for agency workers and those working in call centres, part time workers, etc;
  • equal opportunities, including the legal position on sexual, racial and disability discrimination, harassment, equal pay, etc;
  • health and safety issues;
  • the changing nature of work, including flexibility, managing change, teamworking, etc.
  1. Importance of Trade Unionism
  2. The importance of the knowledge of trade unionism and rights at work can best be understood by stressing its relevance. Most major companies and virtually the entire public sector recognise trade unions, and all employers have to work within current employment and discrimination law. An understanding of these issues can make working life much easier for students entering the world of work.Again the relevance of trade unionism can be stressed to parents who may belong to trade unions themselves, have benefited from the services they provide.

  3. Benefits to Businesses
  4. Employees with knowledge of trade unionism and rights at work can be an asset to businesses who need to conduct employee relations within their enterprises, as they will be able to play a constructive rolein workplace partnership arrangements

  5. Organisational Arrangements
  6. At present the Scottish curriculum does not include citizenship issues. However it could be possible to use the above material in PSE or Lifeskills lessons. It should also be possible to include a trade union perspective in the Understanding Industry courses, available to some 5th and 6th year students. One way for businesses to be involved in provision of such education would be for them to involve some of their trade union representatives in industry liaison projects carried out in schools so that the trade union view could be presented.

  7. Key Recommendations

The role of trade unions and rights at work is an important subject with which all students should be familiar. The topics covered in the TUC Educational Resource for Work Experience and Careers Education provide an excellent basis for such studies.

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith
Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,Glasgow
G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk


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