Training for workplace representatives

Course participants around a table

Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, much of our activist training is currently being run online, using a combination of interactive webinars, individual work, and online activities and forums.

Courses are being organised both regionally and nationally. Where possible, you should aim to attend a course in your region. This will give you the opportunity to meet other activists near you and learn about specific support and resources that are available in your region.

Learning and Organising Services are running a limited number of national courses.

Contact your regional education team

National courses

Once you have been elected as a workplace representative (steward) you will be invited to complete the short online module introducing the role. You can find this on our e-learning site. You should then contact your branch education officer and arrange to attend a face to face course.

You can get ahead by undertaking the TUC’s Introduction to Organising digital course. Over seven short modules, this explores the concept of organising and why it’s important, and introduces some important skills.

Introduction to Organising

Training for new stewards takes place over five days (with a shorter, three-day, option for those who do not wish to perform all the duties of a fully trained steward). This may be arranged in a single block (Monday-Friday), one day per week across five weeks, or in some other formation.

Contact your regional education team to find out about training near you. For reps who cannot attend face to face training due to work patterns or domestic commitments, there is an online option.

Stage 1

The first three days of training for workplace representatives will help you to understand the steward’s role in organising members at local level and help you feel confident in carrying out your duties. It covers topics including: the role of an organising union; the importance of equalities in UNISON; working with members and more experienced activists to resolve issues; where and when to seek advice and guidance; union procedures; and your next steps in UNISON.

For members who do not wish to become accredited or represent members in grievance and disciplinary procedures, there is an option to sign up for and complete this first stage as a standalone course.

Stage 2

The final two days of the training for workplace representatives will certify you as competent to accompany members at displinary and grievance hearings in order to comply with the Employment Relations Act (ERA) 1999.

Developing representation skills

This course features an extended video case study of a disciplinary case, and is intended to give new stewards an insight into how the procedures work as well as develop the skills of more experienced representatives.

Dealing with online hearings

This short session explores the particular challenges associated with representing members at online hearings and helps stewards identify best practice in this type of representation situation.

Capability hearings

The aims of this course are to:

  • Review and establish best practice on how to prepare to meet and interview a member.
  • Give participants a basic understanding of the law relating to capability dismissal.
  • Put theory into practice by analysing the strengths and weakness of a capability case study.

Introduction to negotiating skills

This course explores the principles of negotiating and collective bargaining, and includes a role play case study to help reps work through the concept in a practical way.

Further representation skills

This course is designed to follow on from the stage 2 stewards course or equivalent and is aimed at existing UNISON stewards. The course reinforces some approaches and procedures introduced in the the course and explores in more detail:

  • Process for identifying needs and exploring what is and isn’t a case
  • Recap on sources of information especially the ACAS code
  • Preparing for a grievance and a capability case
  • Planning and building a case including interviewing witnesses
  • Possible outcomes from cases
  • Building confidence, getting organised and looking after yourself.

Team negotiating skills

This course is aimed at UNISON representatives who are involved in negotiations or who are likely to become involved in negotiations with management. 

This course will help participants to: 

  • develop and practice negotiating skills 
  • be more effective team negotiators 
  • understand the process of negotiating 
  • be familiar with different styles of negotiating 
  • understand how to prepare, present and negotiate on a claim 
  • develop good practice in negotiations 

ERA reaccreditation

By law, all workplace representatives are required to undertake training at least once every five years to keep up to date and maintain their ERA certification. The two-day refresher course aims to update reps on new legislation which is relevant to their role and introduce new developments within UNISON.

Employment Law

It is useful for workplace representatives to have at least a basic understanding of employment law. Most regions run the Introduction to Employment Law course, and some run courses on specific aspects of employment law.

Advanced employment law courses are offered nationally.

Employment law

Training in your region

National courses and events

Booking and attending courses


Photograph © Jess Hurd/