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.

What do ULRs do?

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 ULR role involves:

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

How do I become a ULR?

If union members want to become ULRs, they should first discuss it with the relevant workplace structure of their 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.

Training ULRs

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.

What courses are available?

What are the main functions of a ULR?

The statutory functions of a ULR are:

  • 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

What are the rights of a ULR?

The statutory rights for ULRs and union members are:

  • 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 on the rights of ULRs and union members, see the ACAS Code of Practice - Time off for trade union duties and activities.

Also see the unionlearn page on how to secure recognition and paid time off.

Embedding learning in the workplace

Establishing a formal learning agreement helps embed learning in the workplace. It also 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 is a major source of information and advice for trade unions and their representatives who are or want to become ULRs.

Widening participation

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

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

ULR Webinar

Ivor Riddell, an experienced ULR with the RMT hosted a live Q&A session and inspired us all by talking about how to get members and colleagues interested in learning, persuading your employer that learning at work is good and celebrating successes.

Essential viewing for all who want to changes lives through learning.


ULR Awards 2020

Nominations are now open for unionlearn’s annual ULR awards, and unions are being encouraged to put forward ULRs who have made a difference to workplace learning and supported workers develop their skills. The awards are for ULRs who have supported learning and skills in workplaces across the country and made a difference to the lives of working people by helping colleagues gain new skills – both for personal or work development.

The awards have six categories this year, reflecting key areas of unionlearn’s work:

  • Apprenticeships
  • English (literacy)
  • Maths (numeracy)
  • Supporting disadvantaged learners
  • Older workers
  • Digital

If you would like to nominate someone for an award please fill in both the application form and equality form below. Please note that all applications must be agreed and signed off by a senior union officer.

The deadline for nominations is Friday 26th June 2020