Unlike the Tories, the Welsh government champions unions as a force for good

Hannah Blythyn
© Jamie Green/CC BY 2.0

This week is HeartUnions week, an annual opportunity to showcase the work that trade unions do at work and in communities right across the country. From supporting members, to offering training opportunities and championing equality and much more, trade unions bring benefits beyond the workplace, and being in a trade union is the best way for workers to protect their rights at work, improve their experience of work and ensure their voice is heard.

There has never been a more important time to be steadfast in our commitment to raising awareness of trade unions as a force for good, as the UK Conservative government launch a series of ideological assaults on trade unions – not least in the perniciously anti-democratic and anti-worker strikes (minimum service levels) bill.

Make no mistake: this anti-strike law is an attack on the basic right to withdraw one’s labour in order to fight for better conditions at work and means that workers could be sacked for striking. The legislation is ill conceived and has the potential to do lasting damage to industrial relations across the UK. It also interferes with devolved public services in Wales, and the Welsh Labour government is wholly opposed to it.

The retrograde attitude to trade unions adopted by the Tories in Westminster could not be in starker contrast to the position of the Welsh Labour government. We’re clear that trade unions are the legitimate voice of workers in the workplace, whether that be in the public, private or voluntary sector and being part of a trade union is the most effective way to improve well-being at work. That’s why as a government we are committed to promoting awareness of the role of trade unions and the benefits of joining a trade union and we encourage employers to provide trade union access so that workers have the opportunity and choice to be represented collectively.

In Wales, we’re proud to work alongside trade unions on initiatives and projects that not only support trade unions in reaching out to more workplaces but that also offer learning and other opportunities at work. In the same year that the UK Conservative government axed the union learning fund (ULF) in England, the Wales union learning fund (WULF) delivered for a record number of workers. The WULF is provided by the Welsh government to help support union-led adult learning in the workplace. All Welsh workers are able to access the fund and the support, advice, guidance and training provided through WULF projects. As a government, we’ve been clear that fairness must be at the heart of the economic recovery, and working in partnership with trade unions is central to making sure that happens.

Building on earlier Welsh government-backed campaigns to raise awareness of rights and responsibilities in the workplace, I am particularly proud of our more recent ‘unions and the world of work’ pilot project. Younger workers are traditionally the least likely to know their rights and, sadly, the most likely to be exploited at work. If young workers don’t understand their workplace rights, it can make them vulnerable to poor employment practices and accidents at work.

The unions and the world of work project has been developed in social partnership with trade unions, teachers and schools. Working with Wales TUC, the project will support the delivery of careers and work-related experiences (CWRE) – an integral part of the new curriculum for Wales. Through the pilot, a range of resources are being made available to secondary schools across Wales, with the aim of empowering the next generation of workers and employers to have a better understanding of employment rights, the role of trade unions and the impact of collective voice in addressing issues in the workplace and beyond.

Ensuring the next generation of workers, employers and entrepreneurs learn about workplace rights supports our journey to becoming a fair work nation. Whilst fair work spans both devolved and non-devolved areas, which impacts on what we can do and how we do it, the Welsh government is committed to using every lever we have to promote and enable fair work. At the heart of all of this, the Welsh Labour government is clear trade unions are good for workplaces and good for Wales. After all, as a labour movement, we know that we are always stronger together in our collective endeavour.

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