At a time of uncertainty and with a resurgent coronavirus looming over us, this year I have taken heart from the extraordinary efforts of workers across the country.
2021 will be remembered by some simply as the second year of the Covid pandemic. But for me, I will remember it for the tireless dedication of our unions, and our reps, fighting hard to defend workers’ rights and keep workplaces safe.
Across the nation, workers have felt the strain of under-funded services and the corrosive influence of the UK government’s neglect. Yet they have carried on across every sector, unwavering in their determination to keep public services running, shelves stocked, and our communities connected.
As I look with utter revulsion at the UK government, giggling over their festive parties, their chicanery, their evasion of all responsibility, I take solace in the fact that, although they steer the ship, it is working people who keep it moving.
But at a time when working people deserve proper reward, it was disappointing to see so many employers attempt to erode workers’ pay and conditions this year. After all that workers have given and sacrificed, the growing use of tactics such as fire and rehire were a gross insult and a shocking insight into corporate culture and greed.
It was workers and their unions who stood firm against these disgraceful measures. It was their unity and strength, that saw bosses across Wales back down and return to the table to negotiate reasonable settlements.
Decent employment, fair reward, dignity and safety in workplaces; these are not outrageous demands. They are what every worker deserves.
For every attempt to chip away at what our movement has built, trade unions are there to stand strong, organise and resist. When employers try to force more work for less reward, unions fight back and fight to win. We have seen this done successfully across the country this year.
But our movement is more than a line of defence against bad bosses. We look forward, reach outwards, and put equal energy into tackling the problems of tomorrow as those of today. We continue to work in social partnership with Welsh Government and wider partners. Together we will realise a vision of Wales as a fair work nation - a nation of sanctuary, that welcomes all.
Earlier in the year, I was honoured to attend COP26 as part of the International Trade Union delegation. Climate change is an epoch-defining issue and I joined my trade union colleagues in pushing governments to make tangible commitments to address the climate crisis. Instead of sloganeering and lip service, we urged a radical change in economic and industrial policy. And we argued that workers must be at the heart of the agenda.
Although UK government progress was limited, I returned from COP26 determined that we must not accept half-measures or fall for any 'greenwashing' by employers. Union reps know their industry best. They are the experts in the future world of work. In the months and years ahead we need to ensure a just transition to a greener future, one that leaves no worker or community behind.
Part of that future will involve new technology. Technological innovation can have profound benefits to society, but it can also be used for malign purposes. It can discriminate and create further divisions. We are already seeing Artificial Intelligence (AI) being used to automate management functions, monitor staff, and make decisions.
We recently held an event at the Senedd to discuss new technologies with Senedd members, ministers, academics, and trade union activists. The Wales TUC is committed to raising awareness on this subject as too many know too little about it. Workers' voices must be heard.
So, after such a tumultuous year, for some of us, now is the time to rest, reflect and reset. Let's all continue to do our bit to protect our NHS and support the people who continue working tirelessly, under extreme pressure, to keep it moving. Get jabbed, get boosted and let's keep looking after each other.
However uncertain things may seem, remember that trade unions are always there, standing with you to face whatever lies ahead.
We remain unashamedly relentless in our mission to secure fair work, fair reward, and dignity for all working people. In unity there is strength, there is equity and social justice. So if you make any resolutions this year, make sure one of them is to join a union and get active.
From myself and the Wales TUC, I would like to wish you, your family, and colleagues good health and happiness in 2022.