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Section 2 - Training of union representatives in aspects of employment relations and employee development

Training is important for union representatives to enable them to carry out their duties effectively. Training should be available both to newly appointed and to more established union representatives. It is desirable, from time to time where resources permit it, for joint training and development activities between union representatives and managers to occur.


21. Employees who are union representatives of an independent trade union recognised by their employer are to be permitted reasonable time off during working hours to undergo training in aspects of industrial relations relevant to the carrying out of their trade union duties. These duties must be concerned with:

  • negotiations with the employer about matters which fall
    within section 178(2) TULR(C)A and for which the union is recognised to any extent for the purposes of collective bargaining by the employer
  • any other functions on behalf of employees of the employer 
    which are related to matters falling within section 178(2) TULR(C)A and which the employer has agreed the union may perform
  • matters associated with information and consultation 
    concerning collective redundancy and the Transfer of Undertakings, and the negotiation of an agreement under Regulation 9 of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employees) Regulations.

Matters falling within section 178(2) TULR(C)A are set out in paragraph 13 above.

22. The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 regulation 4(2)(b) requires that employers allow union health and safety representatives to undergo training in aspects of their functions that is 'reasonable in all the circumstances'.

Further advice on the training of health and safety representatives is provided by the Health and Safety Executive in their approved Code and Guidance 'Consulting workers on health and safety'. This is not covered in this Acas Code.

23. Employees who are Trade Union Learning Representatives are also permitted reasonable time off during working hours to undergo training relevant to their functions as a Union Learning Representative.

What is relevant employment relations training?

24. Training should be in aspects of employment relations relevant to the duties of a union representative. There is no one recommended syllabus for training as a union representative's duties will vary according to:

  • the collective bargaining arrangements at the place of work, particularly the scope of the recognition or other agreement
  • the structure of the union
  • the role of the union representative
  • the handling of proposed collective redundancies or the transfer of undertakings.

25. The training must also be approved by the Trades Union Congress or by the independent trade union of which the employee is a union representative.

26. Union representatives are more likely to carry out their duties effectively if they possess skills and knowledge relevant to their duties. In particular, employers should be prepared to consider releasing union representatives for initial training in basic representational skills as soon as possible after their election or appointment, bearing in mind that suitable courses may be infrequent. Reasonable time off could also be considered, for example:

  • for training courses to develop the union representative's skills in 
    representation, accompaniment, negotiation and consultation
  • for further training particularly where the union representative has 
    special responsibilities, for example in collective redundancy and transfer of undertakings circumstances
  • for training courses to familiarise or update union representatives on 
    issues reflecting the developing needs of the workforce they represent
  • for training where there are proposals to change the structure and 
    topics of negotiation about matters for which the union is recognised; or where significant changes in the organisation of work are being contemplated
  • for training where legal change may affect the conduct of 
    employment relations at the place of work and may require the reconsideration of existing agreements
  • for training where a union representative undertakes the role of 
    accompanying employees in grievance and disciplinary hearings.

27. E-learning tools, related to the role of union representatives, should be used where available and appropriate. However, their best use is as an additional learning aid rather than as a replacement to attendance at approved trade union and Trades Union Congress training courses. Time needs to be given during normal working hours for union representatives to take advantage of e-learning where it is available.

Training for Union Learning Representatives

28. Employees who are members of an independent trade union recognised by the employer are entitled to reasonable paid time off to undertake the functions of a Union Learning Representative. To qualify for paid time off the member must be sufficiently trained to carry out duties as a learning representative:

  • either at the time when their trade union gives notice to their 
    employer in writing that they are a learning representative of the trade union
  • or within six months of that date.

29. In the latter case, the trade union is required to give the employer notice in writing that the employee will be undergoing such training and when the employee has done so to give the employer notice of that fact. During the six month period in which he or she is undergoing this training, the Union Learning Representative must be allowed time off to perform their duties. It should be confirmed by the union in a letter that the training undertaken is sufficient to allow the Learning Representative to undertake their role and it is good practice for the union to give details of the training which has been completed and any previous training that has been taken into account. In the interests of good practice, the six month qualifying period may be extended, with agreement, to take into account any significant unforeseen circumstances such as prolonged absence from work due to ill health, pregnancy, bereavement or unavoidable delays in arranging an appropriate training course.

30. To satisfy this training requirement an employee will need to be able to demonstrate to their trade union that they have received sufficient training to enable them to operate competently in one or more of the following areas of activity relevant to their duties as a Union Learning Representative:

analysing learning or training needs

  • this could for example include understanding the different methods 
    for identifying learning interests or needs, being able to effectively identify and record individual learning needs or being able to draw up a plan to meet identified learning requirements.

providing information and advice about learning or training matters

  • including, for example, the development of communication and 
    interviewing skills
  • knowledge of available opportunities, in order to be able to provide 
    accurate information to members about learning opportunities
    within and outside the workplace
  • the ability to signpost members to other sources of advice and 
    guidance where additional support is needed, for example, basic
    skills tutors or fuller in depth professional career guidance.

arranging and supporting learning and training

  • for example, obtaining and providing information on learning 
    opportunities including e-learning where available, supporting and encouraging members to access learning opportunities and helping to develop and improve local learning opportunities.

promoting the value of learning and training

  • some examples of this activity could be, understanding current 
    initiatives for the development of learning and skills in the workplace, promoting the value of learning to members and within trade union networks and structures, working with employers to meet the learning and skill needs of both individuals and the organisation, and appreciating the value of learning agreements and how they may be developed.

31. An employee could demonstrate to their trade union that they have received sufficient training to enable them to operate competently in one or more of these areas of activity by:

  • completing a training course approved by the Trades Union 
    Congress or by the independent trade union of which the employee is a Union Learning Representative, or by
  • showing that they have previously gained the relevant expertise and 
    experience to operate effectively as a learning representative.

In the latter case, previous experience and expertise gained in areas such as teaching, training, counselling, providing careers advice and guidance or human resource development, may well be relevant, as may periods of extensive on-the-job training and experience gained in shadowing an experienced Union Learning Representative.

32. Reasonable time off should also be considered for further training to help Union Learning Representatives develop their skills and competencies.

33. Although not required by law it is recognised that there would be clear advantages both to the individual and the organisation if training undertaken leads to a recognised qualification standard.

Payment for time off for training

34. An employer who permits union representatives or Union Learning Representatives time off to attend relevant training, must pay them for the time off taken. The employer must pay either the amount that the union representative or the Union Learning Representative would have earned had they worked during the time off taken or, where earnings vary with the work done, an amount calculated by reference to the average hourly earnings for the work they are employed to do.

The calculation of pay for the time taken for training should be undertaken with due regard to the type of payment system applying to the union representative and Union Learning Representative including, as appropriate, shift premia, performance related pay, bonuses and commission earnings. Where pay is linked to the achievement of performance targets it may be necessary to adjust such targets to take account of the reduced time the representative has to achieve the desired performance.

35. There is no statutory requirement to pay for time off where training is undertaken at a time when the union representative or Union Learning Representative would not otherwise have been at work unless the union representative or Union Learning Representative works flexible hours, such as night shift, but needs to undertake training during normal hours. Staff who work part time will be entitled to be paid if staff who work full time would be entitled to be paid. In all cases, the amount of time off must be reasonable.

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