Report

Trade Union and Skills – Critical engagement may lead to improvements in the working lives of members and workers in general

This report seeks to improve our understanding of the involvement of trade unions in the domain of TVET and skills development at the national, sectoral and enterprise levels. It does this through case studies of ten countries at different stages of development and with different traditions of unionism and social dialogue.


The literature review and the ten national case studies have provided significant examples of trade union involvement in skills development, in certain countries and at certain levels, and some answers to the fundamental questions put in the introduction of the study, namely:

• why should trade unions be involved in the skills development agenda?
• what are the different ways that trade unions can become involved in skills development systems?
• what benefits are delivered through trade union involvement in skills development systems?

Trade unions should be involved in the skills development agenda, for the simple reason that ‘critical engagement’ may lead to improvements in the working lives of trade union members and workers in general, via a process of;

• influencing State policy through participation in the deliberations of national and sectoral apex bodies and enterprise-level works councils
• integrating learning with other functions such as multi-sectoral and sectoral collective bargaining
• institutionalising learning through learning partnerships with employers, either formally through works council or less formally through the activities of Union Learning Representatives.

In general terms trade unions embrace the ‘critical engagement’ thesis which presents skills systems as an ‘opportunity structure’ that may be used by trade unions to support their own interests. However commitment to this approach has often fluctuated over time, and trade union involvement in the skills agenda can wax, and also wane, according to other existential demands put upon trade union organisations.

What are the different ways that trade unions can become involved in skills development systems?

The analysis in this study has looked at the involvement of trade unions at the national, sectoral and enterprise levels. It finds that in general there are numerous examples of trade union involvement, in developed and also developing countries, albeit with different levels of intensity.

What benefits are delivered through trade union engagement in skills development systems?

In a broad comparative study of workplace training, Cooney and Stuart note that trade union have registered some gains, but the latter are contingent on a series of other factors. ‘Where local actors were engaged with unions in the creation of partnerships for workplace training and skills development and where employee voice in regards to training was exercised through formal or informal means, then some positive outcomes were identified. Where formal collective agreements were reached at sectoral and national levels, new rights to training had been established; where the State was engaged, funding for innovative programmes had been forthcoming. However without this support ‘these gains were often both limited and temporary’.

Recommendations

It is recommended that trade unions embrace the ‘critical engagement’ thesis of skills development and as such that they:
– Agree at the highest level within the trade union organisation that there is a commitment to engaging in skills development and to develop a multi-level strategy to accompany it
– Ensure that trade unions from different organisations avoid fragmentation and provide a united front on the question of skills development
– Lobby government to introduce legislation or policy which provides for clear stream-lined structures and statements of trade union involvement on skills issues, whether in terms of collective bargaining, or participation in apex bodies, sector skills councils, sectoral funding bodies and/or works councils
– Lobby government to introduce legislation which enables trade union representatives at the workplace to play a determining role in skills development and to have reasonable paid time off for analysing learning or training needs; providing information and advice about learning or training matters; arranging and supporting learning and training; consulting the employer about carrying out such activities; and preparing to carry out these activities
– Lobby government to introduce legislation which enables workers to participate in skills development, notably a right to training and paid time off to take up training
– Lobby government to ensure that sufficient funding is made available to set up good quality skills development activities
– Lobby government to ensure that skills development systems are stable and recognised as such
– Seek out alliances with other skills development stakeholders, notably employers’ associations and employers, to engage in a process of social dialogue so that skills development becomes an integral part of collective bargaining
– Build capacity within their own organisations so that trade union officers are qualified and able to defend trade union and workers’ interests within multi-sectoral and sectoral tri- partite bodies dealing with skills development issues and, where possible, negotiate collective bargaining agreements
– Build capacity within their own organisations so that trade union representatives are qualified and able to defend trade union and workers’ interests at the workplace, to motivate workers to take up any skills development opportunities and to communicate information about skills development activities to their members and/or workers
– Support the introduction of measures to enable the recognition of non-formal and informal learning to facilitate enhanced labour market mobility
– Ensure that young people, particularly apprentices, are not used as cheap labour to displace existing workers
– Contribute to the collection of data on skills training so that stakeholders are in a position to monitor skills development and estimate the impact of their skills strategies.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Trade union involvement in skills development: An international review

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