Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from UNIFI


  1.  UNIFI is a TUC affiliated trade union representing some 175,000 workers across the finance sector. The Union represents staff in all grades and all occupations, not only in the major English and Scottish banks, but also in insurance companies, building societies, the Bank of England, finance houses and business services companies.

  2.  UNIFI was formed in May 1999 from the merger of the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union (BIFU), the NatWest Staff Association and UnFI (the Barclays Staff Union).

  3.  The union welcomes the opportunity to make a contribution to the consultation on recruiting people who have been unemployed for long periods and for skills development for existing workers who have limited career opportunities. We will also aim to conform with the request that submissions should be brief.


  4.  As the consultation document indicates the evidence is that employers prefer to take on staff who are already employed. With many employers, this may, in a more or less conscious way, be part of the selection process with assumptions being made on the employability of an unemployed person. A cycle of not being able to get employment without experience and not being able to get the experience because no employer will take the individual on is set up.

  5.  As we witnessed during the years of a Conservative Government, with some noble exceptions, generally employers on their own do not take up their role as a responsible actor in society without encouragement from government and from unions. Part of the role that they should be taking is a responsibility to those who have been out of employment for a period of six months or more.

  6.  Although creating a positive environment for long term, unemployed people to be considered in is a positive step, experience teaches us that employers also require incentives to fulfil these obligations. These incentives can come in the form of legal obligations to consider long term unemployed people for vacancies or providing subsidies to employers who take on workers from this category. A good example of the latter type of encouragement is the New Deal which is already available, and this in the first instance could provide a good model to springboard on from to develop more imaginative ways to bring people into employment.


  7.  The consultation document asks for means of both bringing people into the job market and for methods of equipping people with skills for developing either with their current employer or to move on. The Danish have pursued a model which meets both these aims in the same process. One person takes study leave for six months, another person can then "act up" giving them the opportunity to develop skills and experience in a more senior role. This then leaves a vacancy which is filled by an unemployed person. The advantage of this system is that three people have the benefit of a learning experience.

  8.  This idea could be adapted and developed in other ways. Where employees are already entitled to study leave for a day, a group of five workers could be amalgamated to create a new full time vacancy which could then be filled by an unemployed person. Again this provides the advantages of enabling both study and work experience. This could be managed and funded in the same way that the New Deal or Training for Work is already operating.

  9.  The advantage of this method is that it is more likely that employees on day release will be eligible for paid leave and consequently more likely to take up the training opportunities than people who would have to take six months unpaid leave.

  10.  Although, any additional work experience is to be welcomed there is a danger that employers would use this period as a short term employment arrangement. As a consequence regulations should be issued which give these workers a preferential opportunity for any permanent vacancies which arise.

  11.  Whilst we would welcome the Government facilitating employers funding six months study leave for employees, we recognise that this is not a likely outcome of this consultation. However, the Government has a crucial role in creating a framework which encourages both learning and employment for those who have been out of work for a period of six months or more. The New Deal and Training for Work schemes have already proved how the Government can successfully take on this role.


  12.  UNIFI's primary concern is the finance sector. In this sector there has already been innovation with the introduction of the Modern Apprenticeship in Providing Financial Services provided by the Banks and Building Societies National Training Organisation. This is aimed at those entering financial services for the first time at an age group of 16 to 24 year olds, however, it focuses on 17 to 19 year old college and school leavers.

  13.  In the 11 inner city areas that are to be targeted recruitment for this apprenticeship could focus on the long term unemployed. This programme has the advantage not only of providing work but also of offering a structured training programme, If there is concern over the displacement of other people then a pilot could be run. This pilot would measure the impact on both the long term unemployed and on employment opportunities for school and college leavers in the area.


  14.  Many companies in the finance sector, particularly in call centres use employment agencies as a means of recruitment. The staff can be employed through the agency for periods of six months or more before the company decides whether or not to employ them directly. This process has the advantage of improving the chances of long term unemployed people being considered for employment. The result of this distanced employment relationship is that the employer is less likely to invest in a structured training programme for the individuals.

  15.  In some finance companies agency staff have been employed alongside permanent members of staff for many years. A maximum period of employment through an agency for the same employer should be considered in line with the Governments proposals on Employment Agencies Regulation, particularly on temp to perm fees, a "free transfer" should be obligatory after one year. There should be an obligation on the employer to take an agency worker on permanently at this point as well.


  16.  UNIFI has established a Lifelong Learning "Building Partnerships" programme entitled the "Changing Experience of Work". This course develops practical IT skills and an understanding of the implications of technology in the workplace and on completing the course the employees are provided with 30 credits for level four accreditation.

  17.  UNIFI recognises that call centre workers in the finance sector do not have the same long term career prospects as their colleagues in the more traditional parts of the finance sector. With this in mind one of the employers that UNIFI has involved in this project is First Direct and feedback from the participants is that the course has opened up their horizons.

  18.  Similarly in the Coventry Building Society (CBS) UNIFI has run an internal development project which has demonstrated the effectiveness of mentoring schemes. As a result of this training process CBS has developed a new group of computer programme. This has proved an exciting initiative in that it updates and improves the skill levels of employees to meet the changed business demands.

  19.  Both of these projects have been achieved through the Union Learning Fund. They provide structured learning possibilities for a large group of employees including those who have entered work from a period of unemployment. The effect has been not only to increase skill level but also to increase the transferability of the employees skills.

  20.  As already stated, this may have had a positive impact on workers who recently entered the job market, this has not previously been part of the aims of the programmes. Establishing a fund that is based on the same principles as the Union Learning Fund but is focused specifically on this group of workers would be a welcome step in ensuring a thorough flexible training programme is available.


March 2000

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