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First Minister defends his government's relationship with trade unions saying he is "proud" to have worked with them

Carwyn Jones speaking at the TUC conference Credit: PA

Carwyn Jones defended his government’s relationship with trade unions saying he was proud to have led a government which works with unions not against them.

He made his comments during his last speech as First Minister and Welsh Labour leader to the annual gathering of the Wales Trade Union Congress in Llandudno.

His speech came on the final day of a week-long gathering which has seen Welsh unions take their own greater say in setting policies and positions.

And inevitably it’s sparked discussion about who might replace him in the top job with one potential candidate making an appearance and debate raging about the voting system used to choose the next leader.

It was Carwyn Jones’ day though and he was welcomed by the TUC’s outgoing president as ‘someone who’s made a huge contribution to our movement.’

Most of the delegates, certainly those affiliated to the Labour Party, gave him a standing ovation and applauded loudly at the end of his speech.

In return he praised their achievements and celebrated the way his government has worked alongside unions rather than fought them.

As we mark the 150th anniversary of the TUC this year, I’m proud that in Wales we have a government that works with, and not against its trade union partners. In Wales we have a government willing to stand up for working people. And in Wales, we made tough decisions in tough times, together.

– Carwyn Jones

That’s not quite how his political opponents see things. Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said:

Unions do have an important role to play in the workplace but ultimately the cosy relationship with the Welsh Labour government has meant a real decrease in Welsh wages. A Scottish worker now takes home £49 a week more than a Welsh worker, whereas in 1999 they took home the same pay rates. That shows the unions have failed to support their workers here in Wales

– Andrew RT Davies

And there are some concerns from within the unions themselves.

Teachers’ leaders are anxious about the way the Welsh Government is approaching pay and conditions when it takes on responsibility for setting both in the autumn.

In his speech, Carwyn Jones acknowledged ‘questions and apprehension’ and promised to continue to talk to unions as a new devolved pay system was created.

He vowed to seize the opportunity of devolution to create a ‘truly national model’ of pay and conditions that respected and encouraged the teaching profession.

Outside the conference hall, there was a lot of discussion about who might succeed Carwyn Jones as well as the method used to elect a new leader.

When Welsh Labour held its conference in the same venue a few weeks ago, there were loud calls for a move to One Member One Vote rather than use the current Electoral College system which gives equal weight to three different groups: individual members, elected members and unions and affiliates.

Those calls have become increasingly loud since then with many insisting that the change should be made before the leadership election is held.

On the evidence of conversations here in Llandudno, it seems the unions are not giving up without a fight.

They say the days of union stitch ups are long gone and the current system recognises the views of individual union members while reflecting the historical fact that the Labour Party was formed by the unions and their ongoing role in the movement.

‘We fought the Blairites and Progress when they tried to silence us,’ said one union figure, ‘we’re not going to let another section of the party do it.’

Only one potential candidate to take over from Carwyn Jones was in Llandudno today. Health Secretary Vaughan Gething, a former President of Wales TUC, was meeting delegates and refusing to say whether or not he will stand in the contest.

I understand though that another candidate has the necessary nominations from Assembly Members and is nearly ready to declare their intention to stand.

That will make two candidates since Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford has already declared. I think it’ll be three by this time next week.