Read my speech

At the same time as the Tories are clapping our key workers they are planning to rip up their employment rights – ending the 48 hour working week, removing rest breaks and holiday pay entitlements –this is disgraceful and must be opposed. And there is no way that they should be allowed to use austerity as a result of covid to justify such action.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit withdrawal agreement has left the door open for the UK government to dismantle workers’ rights and it seems intent on doing just this. And let’s not kid ourselves – our existing employment laws leave much to be desired and even these have been under attack by the Tories.

Here in Wales we are trying to do things differently. In 2017, Welsh Government passed the Trade Union (Wales) Act, which disapplied sections of the 2016 Trade Union act that undermined trade union rights.

Welsh Government’s Social Partnership Bill is an important piece of legislation for the Fair Work agenda and for unions in Wales. This Bill proposes that Welsh Government, trade unions and employers work together –in partnership – to address issues affecting the workforce and to safeguard and improve working people’s conditions.

There have also been some distinctive steps taken by Welsh Government during the covid pandemic to safeguard workers’ rights, like enshrining the two-metre social distancing guidance into law. and the requirement for all private sector business receiving Covid financial support to sign an Economic contract which includes a commitment to a fair work agenda.

But all our good work in Wales is at serious risk as the Tory government moves to centralise power and ride roughshod over the devolution settlement. The Brexit deal and the internal market act will drive a race to the bottom.

We in Wales will fight this, which is why WG has rightly stated its intent to take legal action against the UK government with regards to the internal market act.

Last week I met with local Trade Union representatives in Cynon Valley. All unions expressed extreme concern about the government’s current threat to workers’ rights. All, like Unite with its support for taxi drivers and BWAFU’s struggle on behalf of low-paid McDonald’s employees, along with the Fire Brigade Union, UCU and the NEU, and most recently PCS in relation to the DVLA situation, are already engaged in fighting for their members’ safety, livelihoods and job security.

I heard powerful and moving stories from GMB members at British Gas about bullying tactics used to try and force workers to accept reduced terms and conditions. And yet there is a solid determination to stand up against these actions by the employers.

But maintaining workers’ rights isn’t enough – we need to extend them, to create a fairer society including:

  • A ban on zero hour contracts
  • Introduce a four day working week
  • Have a minimum income guarantee
  • Establish a Social security system that provides a genuine safety net for people

As the American activist, Angela Davis, says “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

That is the message I want to give to all workers and trade unionists throughout the UK.

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