Welsh council slashes workers’ access to union representation
Hundreds of council and school workers in a Welsh local authority are due to have access to a union representative slashed.
Independent-controlled Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council is cutting the amount of time staff can spend with union reps under plans that have come into force on October 13. The move will affect 660 workers represented by public services union Unison Cymru.
Over the last six months alone, Unison reps at the authority have dealt with queries on everything from bullying to sexual harassment.
The local authority is cutting access to union reps for staff from five down to two days a week.
A Unison rep said the cuts would make it more difficult for HR officers to arrange disciplinary investigations and hearings. He warned the cuts would also mean reps would have to be retrained and added: “We often deal with a lot of matters before they get escalated to the formal stage by meeting with managers on an informal basis.”
A Merthyr council worker said: “I don’t believe reducing the presence and availability of Unison in Merthyr civic centre will benefit the workers. Where our employers have not supported our wellbeing and rights, it is essential that easy access to those who do is maintained.”
Earlier this year the Welsh Government enshrined union relations in law with a Social Partnership Act intended to place trade unions at the heart of decision making over public services.
UNISON Cymru regional organiser Carmen Bezzina said: “Union reps provide vital support for workers across Wales. It is appalling this support is now being taken away from staff at Merthyr council. Unison is fully opposed to this and is calling for the cut to be suspended.
“The decision by the local authority to withdraw this support is not in the spirit of social partnership – a way of working we’ve had in Wales for some time which will only be strengthened by the Social Partnership Act.”
Unison played a key role in supporting the creation of the Welsh Government’s Social Partnership Act which became law in May 2023. In June 2023 Deputy Minister for Social Partnership Hannah Blythyn issued a written statement that said: “Part 1 of the Act establishes the Social Partnership Council for Wales (SPC) to be chaired by the First Minister and comprising representatives of employers and workers from the public, private and third sectors.
“Nominations will be invited for worker and employer representatives and appointments made in the months following commencement. The draft procedures for the SPC will also be published in the autumn. It is my intention that the first meeting of the SPC should be held before the end of January 2024.
“Part 2 of the Act places social partnership duties on those public bodies subject to the well-being duty in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and on Welsh Ministers. Part 2 also replaces the reference to ‘decent work’ in the A Prosperous Wales well-being goal with a reference to ‘fair work’. The provisions relating to public bodies will be commenced on April 1 2024. Public bodies covered by the legislation will need to seek consensus or compromise with recognised trade unions or other representatives of staff when developing their well-being objectives or making decisions of a strategic nature about the steps they intend to take to deliver the objectives. For their part, Welsh Ministers will be required to consult with the SPC when making decisions of a strategic nature in relation to the delivery of their own well-being objectives.”
Merthyr Tydfil council leader Cllr Geraint Thomas said: “In February 2023, due to the financial budget constraints, and to support the organisation through the Voluntary Redundancy and Voluntary Early Retirement process, the council passed a resolution to put in place trades unions’ facility time in order to comply with the Trade Unions and Labour Relations Act 1992. Council agreed five days facility time to both Unison and GMB for a fixed six-month period.
“At the end of this fixed term contract and anticipating there may still be a need for the provision full-time, officers made a recommendation to the cabinet to continue with the agreed five days until the end of the financial year, in order to support the council through the next budget setting period.
“The cabinet reviewed the recommendations and concluded that two days per week per union facility time was adequate. This was as a result of the council’s current financial position and with a view to the organisation having to find significant savings to balance the budget.
“To approve the financial growth expenditure for the two days per week of facility time, a report will have to be taken to the next full council meeting on November 8 for approval.
“Working in partnership with the relevant trades unions remains a priority for the council and we will continue to do this to ensure that we provide our staff with efficient and effective employee relation support.”
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