Exploring the role of Australian trade unions in the education of workers

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
14th Annual AVETRA Conference - Research in VET: Janus - reflecting back, projecting forward, 2011, pp. 1 - 13
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There are two main elements to this paper. Firstly, we critically examine the current literacy and numeracy âcrisisâ in Australian workplaces in which loss of productivity, lack of take-up in education and training, and skills shortages are being blamed on workersâ lack of literacy and numeracy skills (Australian Industry Group [AiG] 2010a&b, DEEWR 2010, Skills Australia 2010). We indicate that the issues of literacy and numeracy in workplaces are more complex and require alternative understandings of literacy and numeracy (as social practices), and the additional perspectives of the workers themselves. The second main element to this paper is the opportunity for unions to demonstrate their stake in the education and training of workers. We ask: what possibilities are there for this to happen; what models exist from which Australian trade unions can draw? In the UK the Trade Union Congress (TUC) successfully negotiated with the Labour Government, to establish a Union Learning Fund (ULF), and give recognition to union learning representatives (ULRs), to facilitate learning for workers. Evaluations show that literacy and numeracy learning is one of the areas most positively impacted by union learning representatives. Based on a critical analysis of the current policy discourses around adult literacy and numeracy, review of the current overseas literature on the role of union learning representatives in workplaces, and research on the history of the involvement of Australian trade unions in shaping the VET agenda, this paper reviews the role unions played in recent VET policy formation and considers what new directions they might explore in the emerging policy environment.
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