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Achieving fair work in Wales through social partnership

We have the opportunity to lay down the foundations of a progressive future for our devolved nation, writes MARTIN MANSFIELD

THE news from Ford Bridgend has brought into sharp focus the need to support decent work. Without government intervention, the alternative for these highly skilled workers is not employment on similar terms.

For too many of our people, outside the protection of collective bargaining, work has become insecure, uncertain and low-paid.  

Far from being the opportunity to progress for individuals and communities, work has become a poverty trap for many.

It has become a source of anxiety, ill health and disillusion — bringing fear for what tomorrow brings rather than hope. 

We must change that. As a country we can’t afford it. As a society we shouldn’t accept it. As trade unionists we won’t allow it.

Through negotiation with unions our best employers offer great jobs. We need to make that the norm for Wales.  

We need decent life enhancing work where you are treated with fairness and dignity, where your agreement is sought and your voice is heard, where your pay truly reflects your contribution and where you have security, equality and the chance to progress.  

We need to ensure the Welsh government uses every lever, every power and every intervention open to us and that it makes Wales a fair work nation.

Achieving that will be difficult in the context of the many challenges we face — Brexit, austerity, increasing service demands, underlying socio-economic problems and whole communities failed by the free market.  

But we have the advantage of a progressive majority in Wales committed to action — and we have the social partnership of Welsh government, unions and employers able to deliver.

Achieving fair work through social partnership should be a shared national objective for Wales.  

We have the opportunity to lay down the foundations of a progressive future for our devolved nation.

A national approach based on social partnership and a determination for our people to have fair work — productive, decent, well-paid work.

That is even more far-reaching than how Welsh ministers behave in government. It is about how we fundamentally change the way government is done in Wales.
 
So the Wales TUC is calling for a Social Partnership Act to put our partnership on a statutory basis.  

The Act would introduce a public-sector duty to deliver fair work through social partnership, make government grants, loans and contracts contingent on delivering fair work, and, importantly, introduce enforcement mechanisms so our Welsh way of working in partnership becomes the only way for anyone who delivers services and wants government support. 

Let’s be clear too about the importance of unions in achieving fair work.  

Individual workers don’t have an equal power relationship with their employer — that can only be achieved through combining individual voices to one collective workers’ voice. 

In Wales we’ve always known the benefits unions bring:   

  • Equality, fair treatment and dignity
  • Safe and healthy workplaces
  • Decent hours, holidays and sick pay
  • The rate for the job not just a minimum wage
  • Job security with the chance to gain more skills and to progress.

The most effective way to achieve fair work is through collective bargaining and collective voice — through effective unions in the workplace.

It should become core Welsh government business to achieve fair work through the extension of collective bargaining and access to union voice at work — and to measure the success of a government by whether we achieve it.

We should also have a shared civic approach to non-union employers in Wales which says recognise unions, deliver the terms of collective agreements and allow ongoing access for unions to represent the collective workforce voice and to organise workplace unions.

Why not? What are you afraid of? 

Even if you’re not motivated by improving people’s lives, look at the benefits to your bottom line: 

  • Increased productivity 
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Increased staff motivation and skills
  • Access and engagement with Welsh government and our procurement opportunities
  • Financial and other government support to deliver our shared objectives.

The Fair Work Commission report published this month has many similarities to the Wales TUC’s six-point plan to achieve fair work.  

It is not surprising that an independent expert panel should separately reach similar conclusions to the Wales TUC proposals — our unions make reasonable demands with the best interests of Wales and Welsh workers as their motivation. 

So we are asking Welsh government today to agree to implement the Wales TUC proposals to deliver fair work through social partnership. 

That is not to say social partnership is easy. There will be contested areas. There will be differing views on the detail. There will be the need for hard negotiation and for discipline in reaching agreement. But the prize will be worth it — and we can achieve it.

In Wales we have the ideal conditions to deliver fair work:

  • A progressive majority with the will to act
  • A government and Parliament with the ability to act
  • Unions and employers fully committed to finding mutually beneficial outcomes.

But in Wales we also have the urgent need to deliver on fair work:

  • For those currently experiencing exploitation
  • For the future prospects of our young people and our economy
  • For our ability to hold our head high as a modern progressive nation.

This is what devolution is for. Let’s do it.

Martin Mansfield is general secretary of the Wales TUC.

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