We can lead the way in making Wales a Fair Work Nation

Mick Antoniw. Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Mick Antoniw, Labour AM for Pontypridd

“Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives.  It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.” – International Labour Organisation

At the core of any civilised society is the right to work and the right to a decent standard of living. How can it ever be right that a person can do a full week’s work yet not be able to afford to pay the rent, clothe the children, heat the home or put food on the table?

For years we have all espoused the mantra that the more unequal a society becomes, the greater the political and social instability. As the phrase goes, the chickens have now come home to roost.

Being in work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty and as recent Institute of Fiscal Studies and TUC data shows, UK Government welfare and tax reforms are predominantly benefiting higher income earners at the expense of the poorest.

In simple terms, under this Tory Government, the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer. Inequality is increasing to levels where it is undermining our democratic system and destabilising society.

In Wales, we have record levels of employment, above the UK average but are increasingly becoming a minimum wage and low conditions of employment economy and the growth of zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment corrode job security.

Despite valiant and relatively successful legislative efforts to develop a different working and business environment to the rest of the UK to support trade unions, agricultural and care workers, the impact of decades of anti-union legislation has increasingly undermined the fundamental role that the trade unions play in our society in protecting living standards, promoting greater equality and ensuring fairer work.

At the core has been the ongoing demise of collective bargaining at the expense of fair work and socio-economic equality. It is now increasingly recognised that the quality of the democracy of a country can be measured by the strength of trade union organisation and engagement in its society.

Less democratic countries want to control and reduce trade union influence. Dictatorships want to ban them. Tory governments have sought to neuter and restrict them.

The greater the level of collective bargaining the greater the level of fairness and social justice.

Ground-breaking

The Welsh Government’s Fair Work Commission recognises this in its recently published report recommending a policy commitment to promoting trade unions and collective bargaining.

During the Welsh Labour leadership campaign Mark Drakeford announced his commitment to the introduction of a Social Partnership Bill as advocated by the Wales TUC and to implement Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010.

This was reaffirmed and unanimously endorsed by the subsequent Welsh Labour Conference in a resolution proposed by GMB, Unite and Unison.

Work in Welsh Government is now underway to prepare such a Bill which could yet be the most radical and ground-breaking pieces of legislation to come before the National Assembly of Wales even with the legislative limitations of the Government of Wales Act 2017.

The Assembly has broad responsibility and competence to promote the social and economic wellbeing of Wales and it is this duty that will be at the core of the legislation.

The first step is to legislate to put the social partnership on a statutory basis. This will confirm its status and provide a clear legislative framework within which its work can be enhanced and promoted.

The second step is for the legislation to provide a mechanism for ensuring that ethical employment and social wellbeing are at the core of the Welsh Governments £5 billion procurement of capital projects and services.

Key factors in procurement policy will need to be weighted to achieve socio-economic objectives. Criteria will include and be weighted towards those objectives, payment of the living wage, trade union recognition and engagement, collective bargaining, social wellbeing and so on.

Thirdly and most importantly, will be devising a robust mechanism for monitoring and enforcement. Without this the legislation will fail.

There will be those who will argue that all this is fine in theory but unaffordable. The response is not whether we can afford to do this but whether we can afford not to.

It is not an easy path to take. We do not control all the necessary economic levers but despite this there is much we can do and with this Bill Wales can again lead the way in the UK, radically reforming and recalibrating our society for the benefit of all, and in the interest of the many, not the few.

Mick Antoniw is the Labour Assembly Member for Pontypridd. He is a former trade union lawyer and currently Chairs the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Welsh Assembly. He is a member of the Labour Party National Executive Committee.


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