8. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership: HeartUnions Week

– in the Senedd at 6:01 pm on 20 February 2024.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 6:01, 20 February 2024


Item 8 is next, a statement by the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership on HeartUnions Week. I call on the Deputy Minister to make the statement—Hannah Blythyn.

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour


Thank you. Last week, trade unions across Wales and the UK celebrated HeartUnions Week, an annual event that showcases the vital work of trade unions. 

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour

Welsh Government support for the trade union movement is driven by our firm belief that trade unions are fundamental to fair work. The trade union movement has shaped who I am, and I'm proud to be part of a Government that values the contributions the labour movement has made and continues to make to all of our lives. We believe being in a trade union is the best way to protect rights at work, improve pay, terms and conditions, and ensure worker voice is heard. We are proud to promote the role of trade unions and the important work they do in making work and workplaces fairer, safer and more secure.

Every day, unions across Wales play a critical role in supporting workers, whether championing equality, offering training opportunities, promoting health and safety in the workplace, or fighting for a just transition. The Welsh Government supports this work in a variety of ways, and I want to take the opportunity to highlight some of these today. First of all, the Wales unions learning fund, or WULF as we know it, is a long-standing programme that supports trade union-led adult learning in the workplace. WULF is a programme-for-government commitment with strong links into our employability and skills plan and our ambitions for fair work. We have supported this flagship programme for over 20 years. In the last year alone, this has supported around 12,000 workers from across Wales on their learning journey. It is an excellent example of how the Government, trade unions and employers can work together to upskill the workforce. 

I am also particularly proud of our Unions and the World of Work project in secondary schools across Wales. This has been developed in social partnership with the Welsh Government, Wales TUC, trade unions and teachers. The project supports the delivery of careers and work-related experience, a cross-cutting theme of the Curriculum for Wales. In making available a range of resources on Hwb—our online education portal—we are collectively supporting the next generation of workers, employers and potential entrepreneurs 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. We remain committed to these programmes because they are essential to our shared vision for fairness and progression at work. Everyone deserves to know how to access their rights and how to use their voice in the world of work.

As work continues to evolve, so must we, ensuring that we have a just transition as we strive to achieve our net-zero aspirations and make responsible use of artificial intelligence in the workplace. The worker voice must be heard and represented throughout that evolution. It is why, as a Government, we are committed to raising awareness of the role of trade unions. It is why we do not shy away from promoting the benefits of joining a trade union, and it's why we encourage employers to provide trade union access, so that workers have the opportunity and choice to be represented collectively.

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 ensure the needs of workers are heard. That is the foundation of our social partnership model. Our approach in Wales stands in stark contrast to the anti-trade-union actions and rhetoric we have seen from the UK Government under five Prime Ministers since 2010. While they have legislated to restrict the rights of workers and trade unions, we have passed legislation to put social partnership into law. Our Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Act 2023 was passed into law in May 2023, putting social partnership on a statutory footing. Its duties will commence on 1 April this year, but we already have first-hand evidence of the positive impact effective social partnership working can have on individual workers and wider sectors alike.

Employers, trade unions and the Government have worked together successfully though the social care fair work forum to implement the real living wage in the sector and ensure our registered social care workforce and personal assistants have the dignity of earning a living wage. In the retail sector, social partnership working has seen the establishment of a retail forum, the introduction of a retail action plan and a commitment from the Government, trade unions and employers to work together collectively to address key issues facing the sector.

The workforce partnership council, a partnership of the trade unions, public sector employers and the Welsh Government, continues to progress a work plan that includes considering key issues like workplace equality and the use of artificial intelligence in the public sector. More recently, we have established the workforce rights and responsibilities forum, where our successful model of social partnership working will drive forward its aims to improve collective understanding of the workplace rights and responsibilities.

Trade unions have played a crucial role in each of these groups and will continue to do so, not least as members of the social partnership council, which met for the first time on 1 February. This first meeting of the council represents a major step forward in our commitment to this Welsh way of working and making it part of our devolved DNA.

The interventions and programmes that I've highlighted today are each designed to bring about an improvement in trade union access, presence and coverage in Wales, all of them contributing to our national indicator measuring the proportion of employees whose pay is set by collective bargaining. I am proud to be a trade unionist and I'm proud to promote trade union access and membership. And I am proud of what we have done, and can do, through our progressive social partnership approach. Diolch.

Photo of Joel James Joel James Conservative 6:06, 20 February 2024

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your statement today. This might surprise you, but I believe that trade unions can be a positive force for standing up for workers' rights and even for helping governments understand some of the nuanced implications of their policies.

You mentioned in your statement improving access to trade unions. However, I believe you have missed the problem in that the majority of people in this country see trade unions as not primarily fighting for workers' rights and achieving better working conditions, but instead are primarily seeking to exert undue political influence over the democratic processes of this country, such as we have so blatantly seen with Unite suspiciously changing its rules in such a way that only their preferred candidate, the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, would appear on the ballot paper. Whilst only 11 trade unions openly support the Labour Party in this way, we have to be mindful that it certainly sours public perception against all trade unions, and this is clearly shown by the fall in numbers of people actually joining one, which, in 2022, fell to a record low.

The simple fact, Deputy Minister, is that, as the primary financial donors of the Labour Party, trade unions have no shame in publicly threatening to withhold funds if their demands are not met and, as such, their position themselves as puppet masters to the Labour Party, where they can indirectly control the levers of government in their favour—often, I should add, against the good of the country. Whilst Labour Members here may snort at this fact—and I can hear them, Llywydd—the reality is that many people who would likely benefit from trade union membership do not want to be supporters of such organisations and so do not join. The Welsh Government's shameless begging in this Chamber, Deputy Minister, for people to join a trade union falls on deaf ears, because the reality is that a lot of people do not want to be so directly associated with a political party, or support a trade union's extreme left-wing political ideology. Indeed, some union rule books, such as those of Unite and Unison, just two examples, clearly state that the union will not support—[Interruption.]—clearly state that the union will not support any political party other than the Labour Party, which clearly shows how hypocritical these unions are. They profess that they want inclusivity and, as you remarked in your statement today, want to ensure every worker's voice is heard, yet, shamelessly, some unions disregard any member who dares to have a different political opinion to them or to the Labour Party manifesto. Surely, Deputy Minister, trade union members should be encouraged to engage fully with different political parties at all levels. And do you agree with me, Deputy Minister—[Interruption.]—that this would benefit the collective cause of helping to improve the understanding of the challenges workers face across the whole political spectrum, more than just having only one political narrative? With all this in mind, Deputy Minister, do you think it is right that any trade union should have such open political bias that it excludes people who do not support their left-wing agenda, and that it damages the reputation of all trade unions, even though many are not affiliated with the Labour Party?

From a personal perspective, many trade unions have a good understanding of the needs of workers in their industries, and it is right that workers have a platform to collectively hold to account employers for poor working conditions and pay. Indeed, I'm extremely proud of the Conservative Party's record in this field. We have a long tradition of supporting workers' rights and working with trade unions to help the UK workforce. Not only have our reforms democratised trade unions by ensuring that every members is balloted, we have legitimised trade unions in law and we have outlawed the operation of closed-shop unions. We have even introduced groundbreaking labour reforms, such as ensuring that workers and employers are equal before the law in labour contracts, that workers are given contracts of employment and paid holiday, and those workers with disabilities are fully protected and can never be discriminated against in the field of employment.

The recent UK Government legislation, the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023, is another good example of how the Conservatives have led the way in helping to protect the most vulnerable in society during a strike, whilst also allowing those striking workers to be confident that their industrial action is not harmful to the public, and reduces the likelihood of a backlash against them. Whilst the Labour benches were up in arms at the time, I wonder, Deputy Minister, if, upon reflection, you can now see the benefits of this legislation to both trade unions and the workers that they represent.

Finally, Deputy Minister, I note that you have made no mention of farming unions. However, you do mention the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Act 2023, which, of course, has a social partnership council. Yet, there are no farming unions in its trade union representation, neither are there any employee members representing the farming industry. Deputy Minister, why is this the case, and why is this Government not interested in helping Welsh farmers? I believe, Llywydd, that the Welsh Government talk warm words about workers' rights but will do its very best to remove any voices that oppose it, which is why it has completely ignored farmers from its exclusive talking shop. Deputy Minister, is this because you know that farmers are gearing up for major industrial action against this Welsh Labour Government for its continuous and appalling record of anti-rural policies, which are crippling the industry, or is this because they are not affiliated to the Labour Party—

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 6:12, 20 February 2024

You're going to have to bring your questions to an end now. 

Photo of Joel James Joel James Conservative

Thank you, Llywydd. They're not affiliated to the Labour Party, so do not even warrant a thought or mention. Llywydd, in the spirit of last week's HeartUnions Week, we must be mindful to remember that unions should not be in the business of blackmailing governments or the nation, and should aim to be inclusive and embrace the diversity of political thought that workers in the United Kingdom have. I'm sure that even the most blinkered trade unionists would see— 

Photo of Joel James Joel James Conservative

The last sentence, Llywydd. 

Photo of Joel James Joel James Conservative

The most blinkered trade unionists would see that this would ultimately be a positive for workers and workers' rights. Thank you.  

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

That was your last sentence. The Minister to respond. 

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour

Diolch, Llywydd. Don't worry, I'll be much more concise in my response. So, Joel James asked me can I see—[Interruption.] I don't think you'll need to, don't worry.

Joel James asked me if I can see the benefit of the Conservative Government's anti-trade union legislation. No. And do I agree with Joel James's points and perspective on trade unions and the role they play in supporting working people? No.

Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru

I grew up in a household where union membership was seen as a natural part of being employed. My parents were both members of teaching unions, and their fathers, both miners, were part of the trade union movement that fought for fairness, safety and dignity in the Rhymney valley coalfield. My great grandfather was blacklisted for his part in the 1926 strike and had to then sell insurance door to door to make a living. I grew up in this tradition, and so I suppose I assumed that everyone who worked was automatically a member of a union, and, when I became an employee myself, I saw that wasn't the case, partly because of the way unions had been denigrated and badmouthed by both Thatcherites and those on the right of the Labour Party who would continue with her neo-liberal economic positions, and this has left its mark on our workplaces. 

I was a committee member of the Swansea University University and College Union, although they knew, Joel James, that I was an active member of Plaid Cymru. I was fortunate to work with experienced and principled colleagues, such as Professor Simon Hoffman and Howard Moss, to help support my university colleagues in the face of management actions that were detrimental to their well-being and employment rights. And since being elected, I've supported the action taken by numerous unions in Wales against employers, both private and public—that powerful collective voice calling out and opposing insecure contracts, unfair pay settlements, threats to pensions, bad working conditions and, of course, redundancies. I’m proud that my Plaid Cymru colleagues have supported these actions, standing with them on picket lines and amplifying their calls in this place.

Do you agree, Deputy Minister, that the role of unions to stand up for workers and demand fairness is more important than ever for Welsh people? The recently published TUC Wales report, ‘Future of Work and Devolution in Wales’, by Professor Jean Jenkins, has highlighted what work needs to be done to ensure that our nation develops a clear and distinct environment for work and Welsh workers’ rights. Wages and productivity are lower in Wales than almost everywhere else in the UK, and the TUC has reported that major levels of labour market discrimination persist for black and minority ethnic workers, for women and for disabled people, with one in nine workers in Wales in insecure work. They found that labour rights are weakly enforced, with just £10.50 being spent on enforcement for each worker, and the capacity of our inspectorate bodies ranks twenty-seventh out of 33 OECD countries.

Considering the stance that you set out in your statement, do you agree that the solution should be to back devolving employment rights? What’s the Government’s response to the findings and recommendations outlined in this report, and what consideration has the Welsh Government given to the devolution of employment law? One of the specific calls was for the Wales TUC to establish a working group to examine the practicalities of the devolution of employment rights. What are your thoughts on this, and how will you be supporting this work if you do?

You said in your statement that you’re clear that trade unions are the legitimate voice of workers in the workplace, so I’d also like to know your thoughts, Deputy Minister, on the view of the Fire Brigades Union that employees were not consulted or listened to, and members have been let down by the appointment of Stuart Millington as the interim chief officer at South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, which has now, of course, resulted in a vote of no confidence by the union. How will the Government ensure that the union’s voice is heard and respected by the commissioners you’ve appointed as their important work commences? Diolch.

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 6:17, 20 February 2024

I'll address the final points that you made in your contribution first, before coming to the broader points you made. I'm obviously aware of the position of the FBU and the motion that they passed. Obviously, the appointment was made by the four commissioners, and it's an interim appointment to fill that gap when the current chief left, which meant they needed to fill that operational requirement. Actually, the interim position was via a secondment, so on that basis, there wouldn't be the normal process of consultation. But I'm aware that the commissioners have met with the FBU and there will be ongoing consultation and engagement as they move forward to recruit the more substantive post. I think they all see the value, too, of not just working with the FBU but the other unions within the fire service, which represent operational staff and other staff as well.

Just on that, when I came into this post, and my very eclectic portfolio—as well as fair work and social partnership, it does cover fire and rescue services—I made sure we set up a mechanism to bring employers, the trade union reps and the workforce reps in that sector together through the fire and rescue social partnership forum. That includes the broad range of worker representative bodies. And I do actually meet, as well as Welsh representatives, regularly with the general secretary Matt Wrack, as well. 

But some of the things you were saying at the start of your contribution really had resonance with me as well. I actually should declare I am also a daughter of two teachers, who joined a teaching union the day that they got their first job as a teacher, and it was very much my granddad on my mum’s side that influenced who I am today, and I think probably was the precursor to me going to work in the trade union movement. He worked in Shotton steelworks, and I remember his talk of collectivism and solidarity and the fight that they had on their hands back then in the 1980s, which devastated our area. My granddad actually didn’t go on that historic, horrible day that still bears the record of the single biggest number of mass redundancies in one day; he went a little later. He has passed away now, but I still have as part of his things his old union card, which was then UCATT, because he was a carpenter by trade, but also a very blunt typewritten letter that was like, ‘Thanks for your decades of service. Goodbye’. I paraphrase, but that was the point. But they are things that I’ve always kept as a reminder of him and what he meant to me, and the values that he passed on to me as well.

I think it brings us to the point you made—the work that we’re doing in terms of the Unions and the World of Work project and what we can do to support the growth of the trade union movement, but also the understanding of it in Wales. I think that's not just for us. I think I can get away with saying it as a trade unionist, but the world of work has changed, so the way that trade unions are organised needs to change as well. We have heavily populated workplaces, but, actually, like you say, people are on insecure contracts, people are working in disparate workforces. So, actually, there is good work going on, but I think there's a role for us too in Government around how we can support that to grow and give them the platform to do that as well. And, too, around the powerful collective voice, and I agree that that is the best mechanism to drive fairness and equality in the workplace.

Finally, you refer to the Wales TUC commission and 'The Future of Work and Devolution in Wales'. I think, whilst there's not been a formal response from the Welsh Government, it's a really, really good report, which really sets a platform for us to have a discussion around. One of the things we would say around the devolution of further rights—. It's probably above my pay grade right now to commit to anything such as that, but one of the things I would say is that it really has to be done in social partnership too. One of the conversations I've had previously with trade union partners is that it could bring opportunities, but it brings challenges as well, so it's better to work those things through together. But there is some other really good stuff in there too, in that report, and some of the things around enforcement are things we've started to try and progress through our workplace rights and responsibilities forum. Because whilst we don't have all those levers around enforcement in Wales now, actually it does offer us a look at how we can do more with what we do have, but also better those connections between the UK-based agencies and the ones that we have in Wales. 

Photo of Rhianon Passmore Rhianon Passmore Labour 6:21, 20 February 2024

Thank you for your statement, Deputy Minister. I know the profound impact being a trade unionist has had on you personally, and also within my own political life. The HeartUnions Week is an important opportunity for us all to recognise and reflect on the important contribution trade unions make to public and civil life. I was particularly struck with your statement when you referenced the Unions and the World of Work project in secondary schools across Wales. For too long, the political agenda of the right-wing media and the right-wing UK Tory Government has sought to demonise trade unions and the trade union movement. This was exemplified by the recent BBC Two documentary on the miners' strike, and its active archive coverage. It's still an issue today from our right-wing media, such as so-called GB News. So, it's imperative that future generations of Welsh students gain a better understanding of employment rights, the role of trade unions and the profound role of a collective voice in the workplace.

On Saturday, I marched in the streets of Newport city centre with Welsh Labour Gwent colleagues, and the trade unions that represent the steelworkers of Llanwern. So, we know, Deputy Minister, that, together, workers, communities and societies are stronger. And we also know that, left only to the unfettered ravages of capitalism, people are expendable to the greed of the bottom line of profit, with little consideration of the rights of those at the base of that triangle. Deputy Minister, how can the Unions and the World of Work programme be further expanded so more Welsh children can be empowered and enriched by this participative educational programme, which empowers all in society?

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 6:23, 20 February 2024

Diolch, Rhianon Passmore, for your contribution and recognising the role HeartUnions Week has in terms of promoting what trade unions do, not just in the workplace, but in Wales as well. I always like to say that a trade union is not just for HeartUnions Week, it's for life. And I think the point you make around the Unions and the World of Work pilot project is really important. It's on a pilot scale at the moment, but it's something that we would hope to see rolled out as well. And if Members are interested, we probably can circulate some details, because I have had conversations elsewhere and people now will think there's somebody in a school near them that would be interested in getting involved and running something. Perhaps we could circulate that. If you are interested, get in touch and I can make sure you have those details to give to any interested schools in your area. You talk about the power of protest as well, and that collectivism, that coming together in the face of adversity, and we certainly saw that on the streets of Newport and Port Talbot at the weekend.

Photo of Samuel Kurtz Samuel Kurtz Conservative 6:24, 20 February 2024

Deputy Minister, I appreciate your thoroughly comprehensive response to my Welsh Conservative colleague Joel James, but there was one point that wasn't touched upon in your response, and it was that of the farming unions. Given the current situation in rural Wales with the consultation on the sustainable farming scheme, can I ask that you implore the two First Minister candidates to meet with the farming unions as quickly as possible to fully understand and appreciate the seriousness of the situation that's in front of them?

I think it's great that the two Ministers were with Port Talbot steelworkers last week. It would be great—should there be a protest from farmers in the vicinity at some point in the future—if they would address the farming unions, because I think it's imperative that what is going on in rural Wales at the moment is understood by the two potential First Ministers. Because if things continue as they are, either of them will be inheriting a right bin fire with the relationship between this Government and rural Wales at the moment. 

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 6:25, 20 February 2024

Can I thank Sam Kurtz for his contribution? It was bizarre to bump into you in another Parliament just yesterday as well. But on the point you make, I think my colleagues who are candidates for a certain position did meet with a delegation who were there at the weekend, and I understand both have a commitment to follow that up with meetings as well. I represent a fairly rural constituency, and I might not always agree on everything, but I do make sure that I have those meetings. And recently, not so long ago, earlier this month, I went on a farm visit and I'm always keen to do more. But I'm just going to pick up on one point. You may feel I'm being pedantic, but whilst the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales have 'union' in their name, they are essentially representatives of employers according to our agricultural advisory panel. But I just wanted to make that little point. 

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru 6:26, 20 February 2024

The last two years, I think, have shown the importance of trade unions. And they've also shown us, of course, that there is wider support amongst the general public across the piece for striking workers, and that's despite, of course, the best efforts of the Tories and their mates on Fleet Street

I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight non-unionised workplaces and what the Welsh Government might be able to do to help unionise those workplaces. What I mean by those workplaces is those sorts of workplaces you might find in the retail sector, in social care, in hospitality and in the wider gig economy. When I was in the hospitality sector, Unite was my trade union, and I know Unite Hospitality has done a lot of work and made some serious inroads into that sector. But how can the Welsh Government help support that work to unionise non-unionised workplaces?

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 6:27, 20 February 2024

Thanks, Luke Fletcher, for your contribution and for making the good point about how we actually spread that kind of union protection and support in those workplaces that probably have been traditionally harder to reach by their very nature or perhaps how they operate as well. And I should say that my first job was actually in McDonald's, which wasn't necessarily the—[Interruption.] I tell you, Hefin, my cooking was so bad I wasn't allowed to work in the kitchen, so I had to be a hostess on the front desk. But, you know, it did teach me some valuable lessons about working in that sector and working in retail as well. 

One of the things we've started doing with our retail forum is something, I think, I'd be keen to look at to see, actually, how we could do more with hospitality as well. Because it is often a younger workforce, people from a black and ethnic minority background, so I think we need to make sure that we can reach those. And actually it's not just about protecting people and helping and supporting them with their rights at work; if people go into those jobs, perhaps whilst they're studying, it's actually capturing that next generation of trade unionists before they go on to the wider world of work as well. 

Photo of Jack Sargeant Jack Sargeant Labour 6:28, 20 February 2024

Like the Minister and many of us here in the Senedd I'm proud to be a trade unionist. We must not forget that the rights we take for granted in the workplace today were fought for and won by our trade union colleagues. And that struggle continues, Presiding Officer.

More than one million people in the UK are on zero-hours contracts. As UK Labour rightly pointed out today, working people across Wales and the UK have been badly let down by the Tories' failure to protect them from insecure work. And I know the Welsh Conservatives either don't want to understand that or deliberately misunderstand the reality, but that is the reality for my constituents, and it's the reality for all of their constituents as well. 

Minister, do you agree with me that the best way to celebrate HeartUnions Week would be to deliver a UK Labour Government that would work in partnership with unions like my own, Unite and Community, and that together we could end the scourge of zero-hours contracts and really deliver for working people?

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 6:29, 20 February 2024

I thank my colleague and constituency neighbour Jack Sargeant for his contribution. I absolutely agree that the rights that we perhaps sometimes take for granted today were not only long called for but hard fought for as well over decades and decades. And yes, I absolutely agree with you that what we need is legislation to make sure what I would call—. So, the new deal for workers is an excellent proposal, and I definitely want to see that delivered within the 100 days, as a promise of the next UK Labour Government. And when I've been talking at events, what I see too is that baseline that underpins what we're trying to do in Wales with our social partnership approach and really allows it to flourish.

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru 6:30, 20 February 2024

One of the successes of our trade unions over the last 100 years has been the ability to secure better pay, and this collective bargaining power has proven to be vitally important. But as part of his pitch to become First Minister, the current First Minister, Mark Drakeford, drew from this tradition and said that, as one of his dozen proposals, and I quote, he would

'Take forward the Fair Work Commission and the steps we need to take to make Wales a fair work nation—payment of the real living wage in all companies receiving public funds as a first step.'

Of course, it is Government funding that pays for front-line homelessness support workers via the HSG, the housing support grant, but even though the current First Minister said that all companies receiving public funds would have to pay the real living wage, the truth is that the funding provided by the Welsh Government and the statutory requirements placed on providers is simply not enough, leading to 42 per cent of homelessness workers being paid less than the living wage and three quarters paid less than the real living wage. So, in the Deputy Minister's response, I'd be grateful if she could say if she believes that the homelessness workers should join an union and withhold their labour until the Government provides a fair settlement. And should the sector use their collective bargaining power and challenge this Government for its failure to properly fund the services and the hardworking homelessness support workers?

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 6:31, 20 February 2024

Diolch Mabon ap Gwynfor for that contribution and for recognising the role that collective bargaining plays within workplaces. Clearly, we want to get to a point in Wales where levels of collective bargaining are higher again. Actually, one of the things I would say is that our support staff don't even have collective bargaining in this place either. So, I think there are ways in which we need to work collaboratively to ensure that that kind of principle, that approach, is applied right across sectors and right across institutions. 

Photo of Sarah Murphy Sarah Murphy Labour 6:32, 20 February 2024

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the miners' strikes that ripped apart our communities. This was in the face of, according to unearthed memos of her head of policy unit, Margaret Thatcher saying to her Government that they should neglect no opportunity to erode trade union membership. But because of unity and solidarity in our union movement with our Labour Party, trade unions are still going strong here in Wales, as we saw at Llanwern and Port Talbot demonstrations to save our steel industry on the weekend with Members from across the Chamber.

I am incredibly proud to be a member of a trade union. It's about people having your back, it's about having a family around you, it's about standing up for your hard-fought rights together. It is a shame, but I suppose unsurprising, that there are some people in this Chamber who don't get that. They still don't get that, they still perpetuate this narrative that the unions mean, 'Do your job, stay in your lane—how dare you organise and get involved in democracy and politics, how dare you be affiliated to the Labour Party, a party that you founded to stand up for workers' rights and not just take the status quo.' So, Deputy Minister, do you agree with me that it is actually vital that Governments and trade unions continue to work together for our constituents and workers' rights? Diolch.

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 6:33, 20 February 2024

Thank you so much for that passionate and committed contribution. Sarah, I know how committed a trade unionist you are as well. And I absolutely agree with you that we need to work together with trade union movements, with trade union colleagues, to actually take forward and support workers' rights, not just within our workplaces, but, actually, I believe trade unions are of the benefit of Wales as well. We know that we only achieve by working together. And it's right that you reflect on the fortieth anniversary of the miners' strike that's coming up very shortly. I have very vague recollections—I'm just saying 'very vague', I'm not that old—but my uncle Tony was actually on strike at Point of Ayr in north Wales. My mum likes to tease me that when we went to visit I actually ate some of the biscuits that had come out of the strike fund. I must have been offered them, because I was only about two, but that stays with us, and it stays with families and it stays with communities. And whilst it might have been a really awful time, I think it also spurs you on too to fight for the future, to continue to work collectively in that spirit of solidarity, those shared values that we know make a difference to all of us and to all of our communities.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, as a lifelong trade union member myself, I'm pleased to have the statement marking HeartUnions Week, or 'love unions' week, as I think it really is, there. I just want to speak here, contrary to what we've heard from some of our colleagues to the left but not the political left of me in defence of unions and, indeed, of their links with the labour movement and the Labour Party. Unions: the people who brought you the two-day weekend; the limits on working hours; the minimum wage; equality in pay; parental leave; the right to negotiations on pay and conditions; legally binding employment contracts; and increases in annual leave to 28 days—many of those during Labour Governments, from Barbara Castle to the last Blair and Brown Governments. Yet, around the world—and this is where I want to ask whether you agree with me, Minister—the 2023 International Trade Union Confederation global rights survey shows that the violations of workers' rights have reached record highs. And we know that union organisers are murdered every single day for standing up for workers' rights. Does she agree with me that the fight must continue, here in the UK and internationally, and in the words of Joe Hill, the songwriter and Wobblies—the Industrial Workers of the World—member: 'Don't mourn—organize!'?

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 6:36, 20 February 2024

Can I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that very fitting final contribution for today's statement? Absolutely, dwi'n cytuno. I agree with everything he said—that actually, yes, trade unions are important to support workers here in Wales, but it's absolutely crucial, as part of those values, as part of that spirit of collectivism, that it reaches beyond our shores, and it's about international solidarity and support as well.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru


Thank you, Deputy Minister.