Union Learning Reps (ULRs)

A union learning representative (ULR) is a member of an independent trade union, recognised by their employer, and elected by their union in the workplace.

ULRs have been instrumental in championing the importance of training and development. ULRs work very hard to boost the image and strengthen the organisation of their union within the workplace. They can help widen union membership across the board and in underrepresented groups such as migrant workers.

The effectiveness of ULRs depends very much on the training they receive from the TUC or their union. Under the Employment Act 2002, the ULR needs to be sufficiently trained to carry out his/her duties either at the time of their notice of appointment or in normal situations within six months of the appointment. In order to carry out their role, ULRs in recognised workplaces have a statutory right to paid time off to train.

If union members want to become ULRs, they should first discuss it with the relevant workplace structure of their union union (for example, branch or shop stewards committee), or their full-time officer. All ULRs are given training for their role through courses provided by TUC Education and individual unions.

The TUC Education courses are all accredited through the NOCN:

The ULR role involves:

  • Promoting the value of learning
  • Supporting learners
  • Arranging learning/training
  • Supporting workplace learning centres to embed learning in the workplace

Functions and rights of a ULR

ULR statutory functions

  • Analysing learning or training needs
  • Arranging and supporting learning and training
  • Consulting the employer about carrying out such activities
  • Preparing to carry out the above activities

Statutory rights for ULRs and union members

  • Union learning representatives are entitled to reasonable paid time off for training and for carrying out their duties as set out above.
  • Union members are entitled to unpaid time off to consult their learning representative, as long as they belong to a bargaining unit for which the union is recognised.

For more information, see the ACAS Code of Practice - Time off for trade union duties and activities.

How to secure recognition and paid time off

Establish formal learning agreements to embed learning in the workplace

Negotiating a learning agreement helps embed learning in the workplace and secures employer commitment to supporting lifelong learning and skills. Working together, union learning reps and stewards can ensure that workplace learning projects and initiatives support the wider work of the union in the workplace, company or organisation. A model TUC learning agreement can be found on page 33 of the Working for learners handbook.

Working for Learners – a handbook for unions and their union learning representatives

Working for learners is a major source of information and advice for trade unions and their representatives who are or want to become ULRs.

Widening participation

One of unions’ key contributions to the learning and skills agenda is the ability of Union Learning Reps (ULRs) to engage learners that are otherwise hard for providers to reach. ULRs offer support and guidance to learners throughout their learning journey and it is important to note that the support is ongoing.

ULRs don’t just engage learners, they offer information, advice and guidance, carry out initial assessments of skills, link learners up with providers or assist them through union learning centres, arrange flexible provision for shift workers and plan next learning steps.


Union Learning Reps (ULRs) Latest news in this section

Leicester City Council - a model employer for supporting union-led learning

06 October 2014 Midlands

Leicester City Council (LCC) and its union learning representatives (ULRs) pretty much tick all the boxes for union-led learning best practice, promoting learning at every opportunity. The local authority has signed a learning agreement with the trade unions providing exemplary facilities for ULRs including a designated ULR room and regular monthly Lifelong Learning Forum meetings.

Related Campaigns: 

Weston College joins trade union studies centres in South West

01 August 2014 South West

TUC Education in the South West has established a new agreement with Weston College to deliver TUC Education courses for Bristol, Bath, Taunton and Yeovil.

weston college logoThe college will continue to offer the full range of TUC courses with a team of tutors who have been delivering the programme in these areas for a number of years.

Marie Hughes, Regional Education Officer said:

Related Campaigns: 

South West reps course booklet for 2014/15 out now

16 July 2014 South West

The new South West union reps course booklet for 2014/15 has been released. Includes all currently scheduled course dates through to July 2015 across the region.

More courses may be added throughout the year – to receive regular email updates for union reps from South West TUC Education contact tucedsw@tuc.org.uk and ask to be added to the mailing list.

Related Campaigns: 

Unionlearn annual report shows increasing numbers of ULRs

07 July 2014

Unionlearn has released its annual report for 2013-14. The report shows an increase in the number of union learning reps (ULRs) and the union learning fund (ULF) performing well ahead of expectations.

In her foreword, Mary Bousted, chair of the unionlearn board, says:

Minister pays tribute to unionlearn's work

30 June 2014

The Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise has paid tribute to unionlearn's work reaching out to disadvantaged workers, the Technician Pathways project and supporting quality apprenticeships and traineeships. Matthew Hancock MP told the unionlearn conference last week:

"You deserve credit for reaching out to disadvantaged workers – people who face some of the biggest barriers to accessing in training and development at work – but who arguably, have much to gain from it.