The planned strike action this week sees public and civil service unions pitted against the UK Government. Assuming it goes ahead, and all the signs are that it will, what will be the effect on political life in Cardiff Bay? Previous disputes have led to closure, business disruption and AMs, including ministers, refusing to cross picket lines. And what stance will the Welsh Government take?
In one of two bouts of strike action by public and civil servants back in March 2010, the Assembly’s plenary session was postponed. In the second, business was disrupted when Labour and Plaid members refused to cross picket lines.
There’s no business scheduled for this Thursday, neither in the Chamber nor in committees so there’s nothing to cancel, and therefore strictly speaking no particular need for AMs to be in the Senedd.
Expect more details from the Commission which runs the Assembly tomorrow, but unions expect ‘all levels’ of Assembly officials to take part in the strike. That suggests the Senedd will be closed to the public, but the parties have been advised staff can go to work if they wish.
Commentators sensed a split at the top of the party at the weekend when the leader Ed Miliband called the strikes a mistake in contrast to more sympathetic comments by the Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain.
The Welsh Labour Government is expected to make its position clear today (Tuesday) with a formal response but one union source told me to expect ‘some red water’ from Carwyn Jones, hinting that the First Minister’s public position would be closer to Mr Hain’s than Mr Miliband’s.
A Labour AM is likely to address the rally in Cardiff on behalf of the Assembly group, but unions aren’t expecting Welsh ministers to be there.
None of the Labour group is likely to cross picket lines which means they’ll stay away from the Senedd and Welsh Government buildings.
Since Assembly employees are involved in the strike, Plaid’s AMs will refuse to cross picket lines.
Some of the party’s support staff are members of one of the unions taking part but the group doesn’t expect non-union workers to cross the lines either so they can work in constituency offices or from home.
Officially the group is calling for the action to be avoided if possible but will support the unions ‘if they’re forced into striking.’
Welsh Liberal Democrat staff will be going to work in the Assembly as usual. With no Assembly business it’s up to individual members whether they need to be in their constituencies or in Cardiff Bay but according to a spokesman, ‘nobody’s on strike.’
A Welsh Conservative spokesman said the group’s AMs are not planning to be away from the Assembly – ‘the group has a proud record of working hard in the Assembly’ and it’s unlikely that support staff would take part in the action.
UPDATE 1215 June 28th
Some further updates for you on the political positions being taken.
A Welsh government source tells me that ministers will be working across Wales but won’t cross picket lines.
There won’t be a statement from the First Minister since the dispute is with the UK Government.
The Welsh Government has issued this statement:
Most public sector workforce groups in Wales are covered by UK or England and Wales pay arrangements. This includes the civil service, the NHS, teachers, other Local Government, Higher Education and Further Education staff. As such, pensions are not a devolved matter and our focus is on minimising the impact of any industrial action on our public services.
The Welsh Conservatives’ acting leader Paul Davies said,
Our position has been absolutely clear. We were here during strike action eighteen months ago. We are here to do a job and we’ll be here on Thursday.
Plaid Cymru’s Chief Whip, Jocelyn Davies, said,
There’s no Assembly business on Thursday so it’s up to each individual member how they attend to their own business but no Plaid Cymru members will be crossing picket lines.
Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said,
There’s no business on Thursday and each Liberal Democrat member will be making their own arrangements.
UPDATE 2025 Wednesday 29th June.
Leaders of all four unions involved in the strike have met Finance Minister Jane Hutt today. She assured them she would raise their concerns directly with the UK Government.
But it’s become clear today that union leaders have been privately disappointed with the lack of public support from the Welsh Government, a Government made up, they believe, of sympathetic Labour colleagues.
They may or may not have been heartened by this substantially beefed-up statement put out by the Welsh Government this evening.
Essentially it reiterates the previous position that this is not a dispute with the Welsh Government whose role is to minimise disruption. But note the middle paragraph which is new and goes further than Cardiff Bay ministers have yet.
Let’s be clear, the unions are NOT in dispute with the Welsh Government – it is a national pay dispute over pension arrangements.
With a two year pay freeze, rising fuel costs, inflation at 5%, the threat of redundancy, it’s clear that public sector workers are facing a particularly tough time at the moment. It is also clear that these proposals will have a particular impact on women, who make up the majority of low paid public sector workers. It’s fair to say that the UK Government’s response last week was provocative and unhelpful.
Most public sector workforce groups in Wales are covered by UK or England and Wales pay arrangements. This includes the civil service, the NHS, teachers, other Local Government, Higher Education and Further Education staff. As such, pensions are not a devolved matter, and the focus of the Welsh Government is now to minimise the impact of any industrial action on our public services.