Member area

Unions & Skills II

26 February 2020

Why social dialogue and collective bargaining matter for skills systems and training provision

Modern labour markets require initial quality training and the continuous access to up- and re-skilling. Policy debates put this as the first go-to solution for the Future of Work. And yet, the reality is that skills gaps and mismatches persist; public education and training systems are chronically underfunded; and entire population groups are falling behind with insufficient incentives or opportunities to re- or up-skill.

The new TUAC Discussion Paper looks at how trade unions can help addressing some of these challenges based on a collection of best practices. The full version can be downloaded here and on the left hand side.

The paper makes the case of unions as essential partners in times when new occupational needs emerge due to digital and green economy needs. In a future world of work, lifelong learning systems need an overhaul and workers would benefit from a statutory right to paid time off to learn, in a form appropriate to the country system. Employers also need to be incentivised. A poll of business leaders has shown that while they want workers to be prepared for Artificial Intelligence (AI), “only 3% were reinvesting in training”. In this equation, especially vulnerable workers might fall further behind. Collective bargaining, learning agreements and institutional support for strong social partnership would anchor more inclusive learning and training systems.

Typology - Trade Union Involvement in Skills and Training Systems

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been very vocal on the urgent need to prepare current systems for a ‘massive training challenge’. The “skills, skills, skills” mantra is heard across the organisation’s hallways (and beyond) when wanting to deal with digitalisation and the inequalities of income or opportunity. Yet, the OECD would give limited recognition to the roles of labour market institutions, of collective bargaining and of pro-active trade union strategies in training design, governance and provision. Recent OECD outputs have put more emphasis on social partnerships. A more granular look as to what it means, would help drive the policy debate forward: Social partnership is intrinsic to accessible and effective training provision.

The first TUAC discussion paper ‘Union & Skills’ (2016) described ways in which trade unions support skills development. This new edition provides an update and takes it further with new case studies and a typology of trade union activities (and the potential thereof) in skills ecosystems. The typology showcases trade union involvement:

  • in the continuous development of skills policies, as members of national, sectoral or local oversight bodies, and in the design of training and accreditation frameworks;
  • in setting standards for training and VET programmes – including on access, remuneration and programme content (also via collective agreements);
  • and as direct training providers or points of contact for workers seeking guidance on career progression.

In striving to fill in the gaps and to create an evidence base, the paper presents case studies from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK (England and Scotland), building on contributions of TUAC members and partners. It further discusses the potential of training clauses in Global Framework Agreements (GFAs) between globally operating Multinational Enterprises and Global Trade Union Confederations.