Becoming a UNISON rep – training in confidence

George Ferguson from UNISON South Lanarkshire Branch trained to become a shop steward. Here he blogs about it: 

Earlier this year I thought long and hard after being asked to be a shop steward in my school work place. Having worked in the civil service, building industry and charity work before I entered education I had plenty of experience to rely on to represent my colleagues. Though it was a tough decision I knew I had the skills somewhere to do it.

Back to training 

As I had never had any formal training in organising in a union my branch secretary advised me I should enrol in the next “Shop Stewards Organising” course. This was more daunting to me than volunteering to be a shop steward. However, in order to do the job properly I would need to be trained to do it. It was also a matter of having confidence.

Learning what's expected of a steward

The course was in two parts and overall it took five days to complete. We covered things like the organisation of UNISON – members, branches, regional branches and the national organisation of UNISON. A great deal of the course covered what a steward was and what is expected of that steward. There were plenty of activities where I participated in discussions on subjects and hypothetical situations with my fellow trainees. There was even opportunities for role playing – I was a manager in one scenario, and I was a bit soft. I wouldn’t make a good manager! By then we had discovered we had the confidence and some skills to play these roles.

Fears begin to subside

Gradually, over the course of day one, my fears subsided and I found that all the trainees were the same as me and we were there to learn to be representatives of our colleagues in our place of work. I was the only trainee from education. There were some representing care home workers, and some from facilities. This gave me an insight into their day-to-day work and issues that they face.

Superb tutors

Our tutors were superb and seem to have such a wide experience of working for the people they represent. We had three tutors in all and again they represented different areas of work that UNISON is involved in, giving us a take on their line of work and what they’ve came up against and how it was resolved.

We are not meant to know everything or very piece of legislation governing work, grievance or disciplinary action. We have now been trained to know how to obtain any information we require to represent our work colleagues. This was great relief to everyone on the course. Our three tutors seemed to me to fully conversant in all the legislation but we were assured that even they have to contact someone in the branch or region to get the information they require to properly represent their colleagues.

Full support from branches

I would encourage all my colleagues who are thinking of becoming stewards or workplace representatives to do so and make themselves known to their branch secretaries – especially those who are in education and are school support workers. You will get all the support you’ll need from the branch – before, during and after your training.

Stars in schools should consider becoming stewards!

School support workers are the unsung heroes of education and to improve our standing we need to be organised and well trained. The 28 November is a day to appreciate the school support worker – Stars in our Schools. Why not make it the date that you decided to become a steward or workplace representative in your school?

The work we do in schools is appreciated by teachers, pupils and parents. It’s about time that the local authorities and all national governments appreciate our role in education by acknowledging that role with the credit it deserves.