The Scottish Trades Union Congress will publish a report later this month revealing the success of the Unions in Schools programme, a trial scheme that has seen more than 40 visits to 24 schools in the current academic year.
The unions believe the programme is growing in importance, given the increasing number of young people who now have part-time work. A report issued by the Scottish Executive last November, based on research involving 18,430 pupils from S3-6, found that 48 per cent of S3 pupils and 83 per cent of those in S6, have part-time work. A "significant minority" work excessive hours.
The STUC sessions, most of which took place in the central belt, were run as part of the Scottish Executive's Determined to Succeed enterprise education programme. Specially trained union representatives worked with pupils in S3-6, typically for about 90 minutes, and making repeat visits to some schools.
The scheme came about after the congress held discussions with the executive, at which they stressed the importance of recognising unions in enterprise education, and was awarded pound;60,000 funding. STUC officials are hopeful that the executive will provide fresh funding to carry on the work.
Given the logistical problems of having representatives visit each of Scotland's 400 secondary schools, it hopes to provide a resource that could be used by teachers.
Dave Moxham, STUC assistant secretary, said the intention was not merely to promote trade unions, recognising that two thirds of young people in schools would end up in a workplace without a union presence. The emphasis was on rights in the workplace, covering basic health and safety to international ethical issues.
The range of knowledge among pupils varies wildly, the congress has found: most S3 pupils had never heard of trade unions, but older pupils who had taken modern studies had a sohpisticated understanding: "What is consistent is that young people don't know much about their rights."
The sessions rely on group work and discussion. Pupils may be asked to consider a scenario and judge whether an action taken by an employer is legal; in some cases, there will be no legal concerns, but they will have to weigh up ethical rights and wrongs. "It's not about standing up in class and delivering big lectures," Mr Moxham said. "It's about generating debate, making your rights in the workplace an interesting thing."