Welsh government tells UNISON anti-strike laws will inflame health crisis

Health workers outside Neath Port Talbot Hospital

Draconian anti-strike laws will curb workers’ right to take industrial action and further inflame disputes across the public sector, according to First Minister for Wales Mark Drakeford.

In his response to an open letter from UNISON, the First Minister distanced himself from the refusal of the Westminster government to negotiate with unions and said the Welsh government is committed to working in social partnership to resolve the ongoing crisis around pay and conditions of health workers in Wales.

Mr Drakeford said: “Unlike the UK government, we do not believe that the right response is to introduce draconian anti-strike laws, which will curb workers’ right to take industrial action and further inflame the current disputes across the public sector.”

The news comes as trade unions across the UK are preparing to stage a day of action against the Tory-led anti-strike legislation on Wednesday February 1.

A major ballot of health workers in Wales over industrial action by UNISON in November 2022 saw support from more than 90% of those who responded.

Industrial action by postal workers and draconian anti-trade union laws meant UNISON did not reach the threshold for strike action in Wales but, the union is now re-balloting workers in the Welsh Ambulance Service as low pay and poor working conditions continue to take their toll.

In 2022 health workers in Wales were offered a £1,400 pay award although this is a real-terms pay cut for the majority of staff.

Dominic MacAskill, regional secretary of UNISON Cymru/Wales, said: “UNISON is the largest health union in Wales, and we welcome the willingness of the Welsh government to negotiate with trade unions in Wales.

“Although, due to Welsh government’s current financial settlement, this is unlikely to prevent industrial action in the future or halt our re-balloting of ambulance workers in Wales which is currently underway.

“UNISON met with Welsh government last week and an additional financial package for health workers in Wales was proposed by the health minister.

“We are now engaged with Welsh government officials to explore how this can be turned into a credible offer for health care workers which we can put to our members.

“We stand united against the actions of the UK government in Westminster to introduce draconian, anti-trade union laws which restrict the right to take industrial action.”