Legal right to request time for training

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Circular No. NP/111/08/AG

11th September 2008

Legal right to request time for training

The Government intends to introduce a new legal right for employees to request time for training (referred to as ‘time to train’), modelled on the right to request flexible working. Subject to its passage through Parliament, it could be in place by 2010. The RMT has recently submitted a response to the Government consultation on how the new right will work.

Summaries of the new proposal and RMT response are provided below, as is the Union’s full submission.

Summary of the new proposal
It is planned that the new entitlement will apply to all employees who have worked for their employer for 26 weeks. Employees' requests would be to undertake training to help them develop a specific skill relevant to their job; the only requirement would be that training should help improve business performance and productivity. Employers would be required to seriously consider any request and could only refuse when there is a good business reason to do so.

Employers will not be required to pay for training when they agree to a request. They will be able to access Government support and funding rising to over £1 billion by 2010-11.

There will be no legal requirement for employers or employees to engage with Unions and Union Learning Reps on time to train. The new entitlement will complement other rights in relation to training and the rights of Union Learning Reps will not be affected.

Training could be undertaken on or off the job; it would be for each employee and their employer to agree what works best. In cases where an employee undertook training away from the workplace, this could be achieved through changes to working arrangements to accommodate the training or by the employer agreeing to give the employee paid time off to undertake training.

The Government will not specify how much time employees should take for training; again it would be for the employee and their employer to consider what amount of time would be appropriate.

Once an employee has identified the training they believe will help improve their skills at work, they should submit a request for time to train in writing to the employer. Employees will have the right to be accompanied in any meeting they have with their employer about a request for time to train.

If the employee request is rejected, it is proposed that they would have a right of appeal in the first instance to their employer and, if the employer has failed to follow the correct procedure, to an Employment Tribunal.

Summary of the RMT response
Whilst broadly welcoming any initiatives to improve employee access to training, the RMT identified a number of obvious weaknesses in the proposals. The most significant being that there is no obligation for release for training to be paid and a ‘request’ for training is not a ‘right’ to train. There is also a concern that through this legislation the Government is absolving bad employers of their training responsibilities to employees.

Time to train has the potential to change business attitudes. However, the limitations listed above will seriously inhibit the success of the legislation. Finally, unions have always expressed a strong desire to be part of negotiations on training requirements and have consistently argued that this should be a feature of the collective bargaining arrangements.

Further information
If, after reading the full RMT submission, you have any questions, please direct them to Alastair Gittins in the National Policy Department at 020 7529 8281. The Government is to publish its response to the consultation by the end of the year and a further briefing for members will be circulated following publication of the legislation. Branches will be kept advised of developments.