Brexit has dominated so much of the news agenda for the last year. The South West, like the whole of the country, remains divided on the issue but there is much trade unions can unite around. We will fight to protect the limited rights workers have and the highly skilled jobs that depend upon EU trade. Some of the region's 'crown jewel' employers, especially in aerospace and advanced engineering have sounded warning alarms over Britain crashing or slipping into protectionist border controls and tariffs.
The complexity around the National Minimum Wage and rates for young people, as well as the deliberate confusion around the national living (read: still minimum) wage, and the Real Living Wage (a voluntary rate) has led to the region campaigning for improved wages for the labour market's poorest workers. Research from the University of the West of England exposed the scandalous levels of wage theft from apprentices because of this confusion, and in Bristol, the local authority together with unions, is seeking to become the UK's first Real Living Wage City in a bid to tackle inequality and stagnating wage growth.
Insecurity at work remains a prevalent issue for unions and the workers they represent. During Heart Unions Week, unions called for an end to Zero Hours Contracts. Unions and Trades Unions Councils came out in force to recruit new members and promote their own local campaigns.
Mental health at work has, quite rightly. risen up the agenda for unions. A successful symposium was held earlier in the year to address the role unions can play in support members and work colleagues, as well as discuss ways through the structural barriers reps can encounter when seeking to improve policies and practices in workplaces on this issue.
Devolution has affected some parts of the region, with skills funding one key element of this. Nationally, funding for adult learning has taken a nose-dive in the last decade with almost 45% less funding now available across the country. In turn, the numbers of adults taking up courses and additional training has also been in decline, with businesses alos lagging behind. Given the serious need for more training and up-skilling in workplaces to address not just the skills shortage but also the need to re-train working people for the jobs of the future, unions are stepping up their work to get more training to more people in work.