Fair Work and the Social Partnership Bill
The Welsh Government has made ‘fair work’ (also known as ‘decent work’) a core part of its economic agenda. This has happened during a time of falling value of salaries and a rise in in-work poverty. Welsh Labour also has strong links with the trade union movement, and this has informed their view of what fair work means – making it about more than simply rates of pay. Other key considerations are:
· Fair reward
· Employee voice and collective representation
· Security and flexibility
· Opportunity for access, growth, and progression
· Safe, healthy and inclusive working environment
· Legal rights respected and given substantive effect.
The Fair Work Commission, established in 2018, recommended that promoting fair work be carried out in social partnership – meaning Welsh Government working in partnership with unions and employers. As a result, the Welsh Government has developed the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill, which has been passed by the Senedd and will receive Royal Assent shortly.
Social Partnership Council
The Welsh Government will shortly begin establishing the Social Partnership Council. There will be nine representatives of Welsh Government, nine representatives of employers, and nine representatives of workers. There is a specific requirement to reflect the public sector, private sector, voluntary sector, higher education and further education.
Wales TUC Cymru will nominate nine representatives of workers and have committed to include members of unions not affiliated with Wales TUC Cymru, and it is expected that the First Minister will agree to these nominations. The First Minister will directly appoint the employer representatives following a public appointments process. This process should be concluded within six months.
The Bill also makes substantial changes to procurement policy in Wales, as this is one of the few levers Welsh Government have to promote fair work. The Bill places specific duties on the Social Partnership Council and public bodies in relation to “socially responsible procurement”. These clauses aim to embed the principles of social partnership into procurement policy, and to improve pay and conditions for workers indirectly.
Consequently, organisations seeking to tender for public contracts may need to demonstrate that their working practices, terms and conditions, and their preparedness to contribute to the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing in Wales. Depending on how ambitious some public bodies are, this could be a significant departure from the discussions taking place within the current UK Government about prioritising cost over other factors.
Will this lead to fairer work?
There are two big trends to keep an eye on in order to assess whether this new approach is leading to fairer work.
The first is whether levels of pay, unionization, and job security improve in Wales at a higher rate than elsewhere in the UK – which could be tricky given that employment law is not devolved and that many major employers operate across the UK.
The second trend is whether these gains are shared by the whole diversity of workers in Wales. Organisations representing women have long been critical of the way that the labour market disproportionately disadvantages women, especially in terms of pay and flexibility of work. Unfairnesses faced by other demographic groups are increasingly being listened to by governments as well.
If we see progress in these areas, we will know whether the social partnership approach is leading to fairer work in Wales.
For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.
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