Rail Union Learning project

Submitted by Janine on 20 July, 2005 - 9:40

The Rail Union Learning project brings together representatives from RMT, ASLEF, TSSA and AMICUS. Unlike other union positions, the Learner Rep represents members from all the unions involved.

The Learner Rep has been part of the trade union movement for a few years now, but we get very little publicity outside of our own and TUC publications.

The initiative is sneered upon by some - including some on the left - because it is a government program. It is supposed to foster 'partnerships' between management and unions to get our workforce back into the education system.

It is full of faults - I am the first to admit that. Getting a learning agreement with London Underground is like drawing teeth.

The government says that it wants a highly-qualified, motivated workforce, but expects workers to do the classes in their own time. If we were on a 32-hour 4-day week, we might have the time and energy, but for most of us, there are not enough hours in the day.

Regardless of this, the initiative should not be written off so quickly. The government does not give us much, so we should grab what they are offering and try to squeeze what we can out of it for our members.

At present, the make-up of the representatives is mainly people who are new to active trade unionism. The old lags of the movement look cynically on as this fresh blood struggles with the red tape and trip wires strung out by management.

What is needed is experienced representatives working in the heart of this initiative, using their experience to stretch the boundaries and challenge the limitations that the government has installed.

It can only be a good thing for people to carry on learning. At present, many hundreds of people across the country are learning new skills - computer technology, languages, mathematics and much more - due to this scheme. The vast majority of these people are having to fit their learning in around work and home commitments.

We need experienced representatives on board to ensure the initiative grows in strength. We need to be in a position to demand paid time off for learning.

The government has opened this Pandora's Box and it will find it hard to stuff the contents back in again. It was their own surveys and reports that identified the need to get our workforce reskilled.

If enough effort is put in, we could pressure the government to extend this program and enshrine paid time off for learning in law.

On another level, anything that can get RMT, TSSA, and ASLEF reps working together has to be a good thing.

- a Learner Rep, London Underground.

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