On the same day that the Financial Times revealed the UK government is considering measures to weaken workers’ rights, in a move straight out of the traditional Tory playbook, the Welsh Labour government announced it will be strengthening laws to keep tens of thousands of workers safe in Wales. As well as putting measures to protect shoppers and retail workers from coronavirus into law, it will become a legal requirement for all workplaces with five or more employees to carry out a Covid risk assessment.
All businesses will need to re-run this risk assessment to take account of the new strain of the virus circulating in Wales at the moment and it will need to cover ventilation, social distancing, personal protective equipment and face coverings, plus making sure that as many people as possible can be supported to work from home. Crucially, staff and trade unions must be involved in these risk assessments and they must be made available to all staff.
These changes will not only help keep workers safer, but the public too. They are testament to what can be done when government, trade unions and employers work together in social partnership. This is a way of working in Wales that, despite employment rights remaining the responsibility of Westminster, has seen us work together to use all the levers at our disposal to make a difference to people in work.
Wales was the first part of the UK to introduce a living wage in the NHS. We protected rural workers by establishing the Agricultural Advisory Panel when the then UK Tory government axed the Agricultural Wages Panel. We overturned much of the Tories’ pernicious anti-trade union legislation in Wales through the Trade Union (Wales) Act.
The pandemic has meant we have all had to make changes to the way we live and work, bringing with it huge challenges and anxiety for many. This is no time to let up, let alone roll back workplace protections. That’s why the Welsh Labour government has stepped up our work in areas that have been brought into ever sharper focus by the pandemic, including social care and health and safety.
Never have we been more aware of our incredible social care workers and the work they do than during the pandemic. In recognition of that contribution, the Welsh Labour government provided a one-off payment of £500 for all care home and domiciliary care workers. Longer term, the Social Care Forum is bringing together trade unions, employers and the Welsh government to chart a course towards fairer work in the social care sector in Wales and interventions that will improve the working lives of our social care workforce.
The recent progress on Covid workplace protections was enabled by the work of the Health and Safety Forum. Chaired by government ministers, it was established in the autumn to provide a way for trade unions, the main employer bodies from the private and public sector in Wales and the relevant UK agencies to come together to share information and address issues in what is largely a non-devolved area.
There’s never been a more important time for workers and employers to be aware of their rights and responsibilities at work. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the Welsh government has teamed up with our social partners – the Wales TUC, FSB, CBI, Chambers Wales – to launch a campaign to strengthen knowledge and understanding of workplace rights and responsibilities.
We are also working collectively to enshrine social partnership in law, with a landmark social partnership bill. This would create a social partnership council, giving trade unions a seat at the table alongside government and employers.
This Welsh Labour government is committed to working towards fair work in Wales, not simply in principle but in practice, working together in social partnership to make a lasting difference to livelihoods and lives. We know that, as a labour movement, we achieve more through the strength of our collective endeavour – for our workplaces and our communities, and from grassroots to government.