Motion 2: Lifelong learning is a right for all workers

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The right to lifelong learning is like the right to a paid lunch break. It is a shared responsibility and must be part of the new world of work.” 

Speaking at the last in a series of webinars centred on cutting-edge issues in collective bargaining which took place in the run up to the 5th UNI Europa Conference*, Inese Podgaiska (ANE) highlighted how ensuring professionals have both the right and the time is crucial to gaining new skills. In their recent joint policy paper, entitled Boosting the Digital Transition Through Lifelong Learning, ANE highlight the importance of working together to achieve results. Inese Podgaiska explained how lifelong learning (LLL) is a joint responsibility and greater attention should be given to how accumulated sectoral knowledge is transferred to workers. It is not only workers who gain from LLL: employers are able to make their businesses more competitive and there are also far-reaching benefits for wider society.  

One challenge to fair LLL is the lack of professional development strategies from employers and the need for clarity on the specific skills for which demand is growing. The webinar was also an occasion to share good practice. In Belgium, for instance, there are sectoral training funds that exist in nearly every sector and are jointly managed by sectoral social partners responsible for organising LLL activities available to all employees. All done “within working hours”, highlighted Elke Maes (ACV Puls). Each sectoral fund defines the training topics on offer, which range widely, from personal development to sector-specific skills.

Silje Kjellesvik Norheim of HK in Norway, highlighted the fact that LLL is a work in progress. ”Lifelong learning is not about taking an exam. It is about building skills and that is a living process, that happens over and over,” she said. The LO trade union confederation, along with three major employers’ associations, have created TheBalancing Act. Financed by the ministry of education, this project aims to develop a model and method of describing skills acquired in the workplace (at all levels) that allows them to be understood across the labour market and in formal education, facilitating workplace discussion and bargaining, and generating investment in skills. For HK, both this common understanding of the value of skills and the development of the Balancing Act project have grown out of the focus on skills in collective agreements. It is sectoral level collective bargaining that delivers on LLL.

Oliver Roethig’s intervention concluded the webinar: “We need to ensure that employers provide LLL opportunities to workers on a transparent basis and that workers have the confidence to request learning that is suitable for their needs and career development. Collective bargaining can help to create a win-win situation for workers and employers, that benefits all of society and increases Europe’s competitiveness at the global level. 

UNI Europa has concluded many agreements and joint statements on LLL across our sectors and seeks to ensure that these are implemented at the national levelThere are also ongoing efforts to influence EU legislation, which sets the framework for individual countries. 


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*The 2 webinars are also part of the two-year project, Shaping the future of work in a digitalised services industry through social dialoguefinanced by the European Commission.