Union Learning Booms in the Shipyards Industry

April 21st 2015

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has announced that the recipient of the 10th Annual STUC Helen Dowie Award for Lifelong Learning is Billy McKay, a Unite Union Learning Representative at BAE Systems in Govan.

Sponsored by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and Skills Development Scotland, and administered by Scottish Union Learning, the award will be presented today (10.00am on Tuesday, 21 April, Ayr Racecourse) by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP.

In the 10th year of the Award, which was named in the memory of Helen Dowie, a union learning activist in the Rosyth Dockyard, Billy McKay was nominated because he has delivered hundreds of learning opportunities not only for members in the Govan yard, but also the Scotstoun yard on the Clyde, members who were displaced to Helen Dowie’s old Rosyth Dockyard in Fife, and for members displaced to yards at Barrow in Furness and Portsmouth.

Billy has led a cross-union learning committee within the Clyde Shipyards under the banner of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU). Billy has facilitated and organised learning for hundreds of non-traditional learners who have been away from learning for twenty or thirty years or more in the workplace, delivering courses at shift-friendly times, including night shifts.

Grahame Smith, STUC General Secretary, said:

“Scotland’s shipyards have been under constant speculation around their viability in the future. As aircraft carrier work comes to an end, there are confirmed redundancies of more than 800 workers from the Clyde Shipyards into 2015. Since there was no other funding available to support these workers, Billy utilised the Learning Fund from Scottish Union Learning to orchestrate progression paths and help prepare many of his co-workers for alternate work out with BAE Systems by organising accredited courses that resulted in qualifications.

“Over his last seven years as a Union Learning Rep, Billy McKay has provided unparalleled support in learning to hundreds of shipyard workers across the country. In addition, he has placed learning at the heart of the collective bargaining agenda within BAE Systems and has successfully negotiated a 50-50 split in paid time off for learning, which is unprecedented in this hard-hit industry.

“Across Scotland, Union Learning Reps are working to help workers raise their skill levels by securing agreement with employers for better access to learning and training. Billy McKay is an inspirational example of this exceptional work and the STUC is proud to present him with the 10th Annual Helen Dowie Award for Lifelong Learning.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP said:

“The Helen Dowie Award recognises those who have shown outstanding commitment to making a difference in the work place and a desire to help others, and I think anyone who shows such attributes should be rewarded for demonstrating such pride in their role.

“I congratulate Billy McKay on winning this award which is testament to his incredible hard work at BAE Systems on the Clyde Shipyard in Govan. Billy has strived to develop learning opportunities for hundreds of colleagues not only at this site but others across the UK, encouraging them to continue their learning and improve on the many skills they already have, and has also been successful in protecting the rights of staff.

“The Scottish Government believes a highly-skilled workforce is a benefit to all of Scotland and we look forward to continuing our partnership working with the trade unions in improving Scotland as a whole.”

Billy McKay, Recipient of the 2015 STUC Helen Dowie Award for Lifelong Learning, said:

“It is an honour and a privilege to be selected as the 10th Annual STUC Helen Dowie Award. Without the support of numerous people, such as my colleagues, my trade union and my family, I would not be receiving this honour.”

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary, said:

“Unite is delighted that the tremendous work carried out by Billy at BAE Systems has been recognised by the STUC in this, the 10th year of the Helen Dowie Award, not just for Billy but for all the reps on site. It is a fitting tribute to Helen, that a fellow shipyard worker should be the recipient this year.”


The award will be presented by the First Minister at the STUC Annual Congress at Ayr Race Course on Tuesday, 21 April at 10:00am. Photos can be also be requested by contacting Jennifer Payne on 07702836478.

Notes for Editors

• The STUC established the STUC Helen Dowie Award for Lifelong Learning in 2006 to commemorate Helen Dowie's lifetime achievements in lifelong learning and to recognise other outstanding trade unionists who demonstrate their commitment to union values and lead the learning movement forward in Scotland.

For further information please contact:

Jennifer Payne, Marketing Officer Scottish Union Learning Tel: 0141 337 8130 Mob: 07702836478

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